Robert Morris

  • Cy Twombly, Lepanto VII, 2001, acrylic and wax crayon on canvas, 7' 1 1/4“ x 10' 2 3/4”. From the twelve-panel series “Lepanto,” 2000–2001.

    Robert Morris

    HE TOOK FROM THE DEAD. The long-dead ancients. He was always grabbing for a reference. A real necrophiliac. But a sly one. A shy grave robber. Digging down to mine our heritage, our Western lode as scribbled on the wall of a public toilet. But wasn’t the gesture a little fey, considering the calculated spontaneity of those smears and scribbles? You could say he got there in a studious fashion. Arrived after a suitable apprenticeship, after endless hours of in-school penmanship. Something like the Palmer penmanship method. (What the old ones like me remember—nobody writes by hand anymore.)


    I taped an interview with Robert Morris a few hours before the February opening of his current retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. We sat on the floor in the Tower Gallery, where some of is earliest objects were displayed—Slab, Frame, and Corner, all from the early ’60s. Mercifully, most of this conversation turned out to be inaudible on the tape. Instead, we offer here an edit sequence of the faxed exchanges that occurred in the days just before and after the opening.

    W. J. T. MITCHELL: Let’s pretend this is your 15 minutes and I’ll ask you some celebrity questions.

  • Some Splashes in the Ebb Tide

    I don’t know if it is my star that is on the wane or an entire constellation that is dimming.
    —Carl Andre

    WORKDS OF ART REMAIN AFLOAT on a sea of words. Those refractory facts, art works, are launched into the treacherous currents of language with its sudden undertows, backwaters, and shifting mainstreams. Works will sink out of sight, cause ripples or even occasional tidal waves. But this trackless, navigational nightmare is not without direction. For below, silently at work, is that force which waits for no man: the tidal pull toward judgment which assigns to works a certain coefficient of

  • The Art of Existence: Three Extra-Visual Artists

    IT SEEMS A TRUISM at this point that the static, portable, indoor art object can do no more than carry a decorative load that becomes increasingly uninteresting. One waits for the next season’s polished metal boxes, stretched tie dyes and elegantly applied liquitex references to Art Déco with about as much anticipation as one reserves for the look of next year’s Oldsmobile—Ford probably has a better idea. At least a couple of routes move away from this studio and factory generated commodity art. One urge seems to be to employ physical materials and processes in an exterior situation where gigantic

  • Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making

    Art tells us nothing about the world that we cannot find elsewhere and more reliably.
    —Morse Peckham

    Between the two extremes—a minimum of organization and a minimum of arbitrariness—we find all possible varieties.
    —Ferdinand de Saussure


    A VARIETY OF STRUCTURAL FIXES have been imposed on art—stylistic, historical, social, economic, psychological. Whatever else art is, at a very simple level it is a way of making. So are a lot of other things. Oil painting and tool making are no different on this level and both could be subsumed under the general investigation of technological processes. But it

  • Notes on Sculpture, Part IV: Beyond Objects


    . . . on the other hand, painterly-artistic elements were cast aside, and the materials arose from the utilitarian purpose itself, as did the form.
    — K. Malevich

    JASPER JOHNS ESTABLISHED A NEW POSSIBILITY for art ordering. The Flags and Targets imply a lot that could not be realized in two dimensions. The works undeniably achieved a lot in their own terms. More even than in Pollock’s case, the work was looked at rather than into and painting had not done this before. Johns took painting further toward a state of non-depiction than anyone else. The Flags were not so much depictions as copies,

  • Anti Form

    IN RECENT OBJECT-TYPE ART the invention of new forms is not an issue. A morphology of geometric, predominantly rectangular forms has been accepted as a given premise. The engagement of the work becomes focused on the particularization of these general forms by means of varying scale, material, proportion, placement. Because of the flexibility as well as the passive, unemphasized nature of object-type shape it is a useful means. The use of the rectangular has a long history. The right angle has been in use since the first post and lintel constructions. Its efficiency is unparalleled in building

  • Notes on Sculpture, Part 2

    Q: Why didn’t you make it larger so that it would loom over the observer?
    A: I was not making a monument.
    Q: Then why didn’t you make it smaller so that the observer could see over the top?
    A: I was not making an object.
    —Tony Smith’s replies to questions about his six-foot steel cube.

    THE SIZE RANGE OF USELESS THREE-DIMENSIONAL things is a continuum between the monument and the ornament. Sculpture has generally been thought of as those objects not at the polarities but falling between. The new work being done today falls between the extremes of this size continuum. Because much of it presents an

  • Notes on Sculpture, Part 3

    SEEING AN OBJECT IN REAL space may not be a very immediate experience. Aspects are experienced; the whole is assumed or constructed. Yet it is the presumption that the constructed “thing” is more real than the illusory and changing aspects afforded by varying perspective views and illumination. We have no apprehension of the totality of an object other than what has been constructed from incidental views under various conditions. Yet this process of “building” the object from immediate sense data is homogeneous: there is no point in the process where any conditions of light or perspective indicate

  • Notes on Sculpture

    "What comes into appearance must segregate in order to appear.”
    — Goethe

    THERE HAS BEEN LITTLE DEFINITIVE WRITING on present day sculpture. When it is discussed it is often called in to support a broad iconographic or iconological point of view—after the supporting examples of painting have been exhausted. Kubler has raised the objection that iconological assertions presuppose that experiences so different as those of space and time must somehow be interchangeable.1 It is perhaps more accurate to say, as Barbara Rose has recently written, that specific elements are held in common between the