Art Department

Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors

NOVEMBER 12, 1997

morris image
Untitled 1996, felt (Photo courtesy Sonnabend Gallery)

Robert Morris is an American sculptor, conceptual artist and writer. He is regarded as one of the most prominent theorists of Minimalism along with Donald Judd but he has also made important contributions to the development of performance art, land art, the Process Art movement and installation art. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1931. He studied at the University of Kansas, as well as the Kansas City Art Institute and Reed College. Initially a painter Morris' work of the 1950s while studying and living in San Francisco was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and particularly Jackson Pollock. In California Morris also came into contact with the work of LaMonte Young and John Cage. The idea that art making was a record of a performance by the artist (drawn from Hans Namuth's photos of Pollock at work) in the studio led to an interest in dance and choreography. While in San Francisco, Morris joined Yvonne Rainier's dance company.

Moving to New York in 1960, Morris was a pioneer in the development of performance art, minimalism, land art, process art and installation. In New York, Morris began to explore the work of Marcel Duchamp making pieces that directly responded to Duchamp's (Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961), Fountain (1963). In 1963 he had an exhibition of Minimal sculptures at the Green Gallery in New York that was written about by Donald Judd. In 1964 Morris devised and performed two celebrated performance artworks 21.3 in which he lip syncs to a reading of an essay by Erwin Panofsky and Site with Carolee Schneemann. Morris enrolled at Hunter College in New York (his masters thesis was on the work of Brancusi) and in 1966 published a series of influential essays "Notes on Sculpture" in Artforum.

During the later 1970s Morris switched to figurative work, a move that surprised many of his supporters. Themes of the work were often fear of Nuclear War. During the 1990s returned to his early work supervising reconstructions and installations of lost pieces. Morris currently lives and works in New York.

He has had major solo exhibitions or retrospectives at the Corcoran (twice), the Whitney, the Tate Modern (twice), both the Art Institute and the Contemporary Art museums of Chicago, the Guggenheim and the Pompidou Center. His work is in the collection of these institutions and dozens of others. His own writings on minimalism and post minimalism that ran in Artform in the late 1960s and early 1970s have also been significant, particularly the essays "Notes on Sculpture", that appeared in four parts over three years, and "Anti Form" and "Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making."

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