The Mead Gallery’s Another Minimalism: Art After California Light And Space picks up on themes and ideas first explored by American West Coast minimalists Larry Bell, James Turrell, Robert Irwin and Maria Nordman.
Their work created minimalist pieces that explored light and space, often using newly developed plastics and engineering processes.
As an example, the exhibition features a key work by Larry Bell. Cube #15 (Amber), includes a glass box coated with Inconel (a nickel-chromium-based superalloy) which is both transparent and reflective.
“The Larry Bell piece is one of his iconic pieces, the work he’s more familiar for, a glass cube. It really is self-explanatory, but the glass is heated and vacuum coated,” explains Seattle-based exhibition curator and writer Melissa E Feldman. “Bell had a huge vacuum-coating machine, which is the size of a lift, in his studio. And that’s very typical of the Light and Space artists.”
Minimalism emerged at a time when the art world was concerned with the busy, often aggressive paintings of the Abstract Expressionists and bright colours of the consumerism obsessed Pop Artists. Artists associated with the movement include Donald Judd, Frank Stella and Dan Flavin (also the focus of an Ikon Gallery exhibition).
Unlike the Minimalist artists based on the US’ East Coast, the artists associated with the West Coast Light And Space movement were, until relatively recently, seen as little more than footnootes.
“They were not particularly well-known for a long time,” explains Feldman. “It was almost a regional movement. Bell and Turrell built international reputations but they were one-offs, so there was no so much of an awareness of the whole movement in the late 60s/ 70s. But the art world has now discovered these artists. Larry Bell is now showing with [prestigious London-based gallery] White Cube, which is something that’s only happened in the last couple of years.
“They were rediscovered in 2010/ 2011 with a show at David Zwirner, an exhibition called Primary Atmospheres, in New York, which was a revelation to the art world. That was followed up by Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Phenomenal exhibition.
Feldman understands why these sculptors were relatively obscure.
“Most of the artists were not well known as their work was not easy to transport, it doesn’t photograph well, and some of the artists wouldn’t allow their work to be photographed because they didn’t want it misrepresented – the work as experience was so important,” she says.
However, their work did influence other artists in the 60s/70s.
“The thing with the Light and Space artists is that they introduced ideas that others have picked up on. Dan Flavin, Bruce Nauman … the conceptual and post-minimalism artists were aware of Light and Space, like Nauman’s early work is very related to what Light and Space were doing. So Light and Space, without people realising, opened up a new line of enquiry.
“It was another kind of minimalism.”
On the different between the Californian artists and those operating around New York, Feldman says: “Light and Space contemporaries like Judd, [Richard] Serra, Andre, were in New York and much more into industrial materials and industrial production, with repetition, many sculptures [that were] variations on a theme. They were getting involved in manufacture.”
Another Minimalism: Art After California Light And Space features a single Bell work, dating from 2005, alongside more contemporary pieces by such internationally respected names as Uta Barth, Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Sam Falls, Spencer Finch, Jeppe Hein, Ann Veronica Janssens and James Welling.
“Olafur is the key person – his work led to more interest in Spencer Finch and Ann Veronica Janssens – their careers have accelerated in the wake of Olafur,” says the curator.
Work on show range from mirrored sculptures and light-based projections to film. The link seems clear in the fluorescent light tubes of Finch’s Shadows (After Atget) and Sarah Braman’s Your Door, although perhaps less so in Brit’ Tacita Dean’s film, Disappearance At Sea.
“One of her main interests is light and transition,” Feldman says of the 16mm short showing a lighthouse lens. “The piece I have in the show is about a sunset, she’s interested in eclipses, the green ray, atmospheric subjects, her content has a strong relationship to them.”
As to whether Another Minimalism signals the beginning of a new movement, Feldman isn’t sure.
“I don’t know if it’s a movement, we’ll see what happens. I think that artists, younger artists, are seeing this work and getting a lot of attention – it’s related to Dan Flavin, who is at The Ikon; [Robert] Irwin who is 90 year old now I think, is finally getting exhibitions. I think all that exposure to this work will impact on the current generation.”
* Another Minimalism: Art After California Light And Space continues at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, until Saturday 25 June 2016. Open Mon-Sat 12noon to 9pm. Admission free. Details: meadgallery.co.uk
* Dan Flavin: It Is What It Is And Nothing Else is at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until 26 June 2016.
Below: Another Minimalism exhibition trailer (from The Fruitmarket, Edinburgh)