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Robert Pincus-Witten (1935–2018)

Art critic, curator, and historian Robert Pincus-Witten, whose writing often combined intimacy with rigorous scholarship, has died. In 1971, Pincus-Witten coined the term “post-Minimalism” to describe an emerging movement in the late 1960s that reacted against the aesthetics of Minimalism and encompassed Conceptual, Land, process, body, and performance art. He published a collection of essays titled Postminimalism in 1977 and a landmark manifesto, Post-Minimalism into Maximalism: American Art 1966–86, in 1987.

Born in New York in 1935, he received his undergraduate degree from Cooper Union in 1956 before earning his master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Chicago. He was a contributing editor to Artforum and served as the magazine’s senior editor from 1973 to 1974. It was in the November 1971 issue of Artforum that he first named the shift toward more open forms in contrast to Minimalism’s adherence to closed, geometric approaches. In the essay, “Post-Minimalism into Sublime,” he discusses the sculpture of Eva Hesse, plumbing the artist’s diaries and notebooks to explain her aesthetic innovations. “In the recent past Post-Minimalism was occasionally referred to as ‘Anti-Minimalism’—a name which strikes a false note because it engenders a notion of ‘Maximalism’ (whatever that might be)—but equally because it in no way suggests the complexities of option which Minimalism rendered possible, new solutions toward which several Minimalist artists themselves evolved,” he wrote. “Post-Minimalism is preferable nomenclature—in much the same way as we say ‘Post-Impressionism’—because it covers a multitude of possibilities, from process-oriented experience to an art of purely intellective activity such as we can find in the Conceptualist movement.”

In addition to writing criticism for Artforum for nearly five decades, Pincus-Witten curated exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery and was the director of exhibitions at C&M Arts (now Mnuchin Gallery) from 1996 to 2007.