When Minimalist art became the dominant movement in the 1960s, it shed all the romantic baggage of Abstract Expressionism. But Minimalism's rejection of that movement's accompanying machismo and self-absorption was a desperately needed breath of fresh air. Walking though the recently opened Minimalism/Postminimalism exhibition reminds us how true that remains today. Unlike so much gimmicky or topical contemporary art, these works are built to last well beyond the context that spawned them.
This exhibition's success hinges on its comprehensive overview of Minimalism's genesis and evolution. The movement's most important figures are represented in more than 130 prints, ranging from Josef Albers to Donald Judd. While one might expect so much reductive geometry to be as sterile and unmoving as the forms themselves, the sheer range of strategies on display thwarts any sense of redundancy. From Robert Mangold's architectural forms to the delicate aquatints of Richard Tuttle's Mandevilla series, the formal restrictions don't actually seem to be limitations. In the two prints by Ellsworth Kelly, he depicts basic shapes against an untouched background: a cube in "Yellow/Orange" and two parallelograms in "Orange/Green." But Kelly is such a jaw-dropping colorist that the juxtaposed hues charge the work with an electric vitality that leaps off the paper. Likewise, Mel Bochner's grid of alternately black and red numbers, "Range," creates an optical effect in which the tonal shifts undulate in wave-like patterns.
The work that best illustrates Minimalism's reaction to Abstract Expressionism's self-importance, though, is Sol LeWitt's "Scribbles Printed in Four Directions Using Four Colors." Conjuring the dense chaos of a Pollock canvas, LeWitt presents three rows of lithographic multiples. Not only does he deflate the dynamic gestures of the painter to a tangle of etched doodles, but the mechanical reproduction of each print effectively erases the artist's hand and undermines the primacy of the original. Although it bears the closest resemblance to Abstract Expressionism, "Scribbles" nonetheless reveals how Minimalism humbly employs universal forms, rather than futilely attempting to create its own unique visual language.