Robert Morris Artworks
American Sculptor and Performance Artist
Kansas City, Missouri
Progression of Art
Box with the Sound of Its Own Making
As its title indicates, Morris's Box with the Sound of Its Own Making consists of an unadorned wooden cube, accompanied by a recording of the sounds produced during its construction. Lasting for three-and-a-half hours, the audio component of the piece denies the air of romantic mystery surrounding the creation of the art object, presenting it as a time-consuming and perhaps even tedious endeavor. In so doing, the piece also combines the resulting artwork with the process of artmaking, transferring the focus from one to the other. Fittingly, the first person in New York Morris invited to see the piece was John Cage-whose silent 1952 composition 4'33" is famously composed of the sounds heard in the background while it is being performed. Cage was reportedly transfixed by Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, as Morris later recalled: "When Cage came, I turned it on... and he wouldn't listen to me. He sat and listened to it for three hours and that was really impressive to me. He just sat there."
Walnut and recorded audio tapes (original) and compact disc (reformatted by artist) - Seattle Art Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bagley Wright
Dance has occupied an important aspect of Morris's oeuvre, involving the artist's creation of rudimentary, box-like props that anticipated his Minimalist objects and concern with viewer interaction. In the 1960s, the artist choreographed and performed a number of works for the New York-based collective known as the Judson Dance Theater, including Site. In the piece, first performed at the Surplus Dance Theater with the visual artist Carolee Schneemann, Morris, wearing a mask of his own face, systematically carried away four-by-eight foot sheets of plywood to reveal a nude Schneemann emulating Édouard Manet's Olympia (1863). Morris maneuvered the boards around the stage, until finally using them to again conceal Schneemann, all the while the sound of a jackhammer played repeatedly in the background. Site recalls Box with the Sound of Its Own Making through its use of an audio recording and focus on the banal (de)construction of a wooden structure, but here the situation is more complex and ambiguous; it is unclear whether the anonymous masked Morris or the nude Schneemann, whose pale skin and white backdrop discourage attention, is the focal point of the performance-an ambiguity that prompts the viewer to consider the relative importance of the artistic process versus the resulting artwork itself.
One of Morris's best-known Minimalist pieces, Untitled (L-Beams) lacks any texture, trace of the artist's hand or figural content that would otherwise distract the viewer from pure engagement with the arranged forms. The work is composed of three L-shaped forms identical in every way, but positioned differently - one lying on its side, another resting on two edges, and the third standing erect. The forms' configuration causes them to be perceived as varying in size and shape. Morris's concern with the experiential aspect of the piece is revealed in his use of polyhedrons - three-dimensional solids with flat faces and straight edges whose forms and shapes could be readily grasped by the viewer. It also underpinned his instructions that the work be arranged differently each time it was to be exhibited so that viewers would experience the work differently as well.
Stainless steel - Whitney Museum of American Art
Untitled (Pink Felt)
Randomness and temporality played important roles in Morris's body of work known as Process art or Anti-Form, a movement he theorized in a famous 1968 essay "Anti=Form." To create the work seen here, Morris cut and dropped pieces of felt on the floor; the result of these actions is a tangled mass of shapes with jagged contours and irregular sizes, spilling across the floor in a tangled object without any consistent structure. This form was not permanent, as whenever Untitled (Pink Felt) was reinstalled in a new location the felt pieces were dropped anew, resulting in a different composition for every iteration. In addition to introducing ephemerality into the artistic process, works such as Untitled (Pink Felt) represented a striking departure from pieces like Untitled (L-Beams), with their serially repeated geometric shapes of works. Embodying a gentler aesthetic than their austere Minimalist predecessors, such works also seemed to reintroduce figuration, as the arrangement of felt pieces calls to mind organic forms.
Felt pieces of various sizes - Guggenheim Museum
Advertisement for Castelli-Sonnabend Exhibition
This work is an advertisement for Morris's April 1974 exhibition at the Castelli and Sonnabend galleries, that was part of his continuing dialogue with the artist Lynda Benglis, with whom he had previously collaborated on film projects. In the ad, featured in Artforum magazine, Morris is seen from the waist up, flexing his muscles and outfitted only in S & M gear: a German Army helmet, aviator sunglasses, steel chains, and a spiked collar. While striking in itself, Morris's hypermasculine self-portrait is important for prompting an image that gave rise to a huge controversy on the pages of Artforum: a centerfold ad in that same magazine featuring a photograph of Benglis, naked but for a pair of sunglasses, a diamond earring, and sporting an enormous dildo. While Morris's image barely raised an eyebrow, "the Benglis ad" was met with an angry uproar that dramatically illustrated the sexual double standard. Interestingly, one of the loudest voices of condemnation against was the art critic Rosalind Krauss, who had actually photographed Morris for the Castelli-Sonnabend poster; along with other editors of Artforum, Krauss called the ad "an object of extreme vulgarity" that succeeded in "brutalizing ourselves and, we think, our readers."
Photograph (used for magazine print)
Steam Work for Bellingham-II
The ephemerality and unpredictability explored in Morris's felt pieces was addressed in other aspects of his oeuvre as well, such as his steam works. One of these pieces was Steam Work for Bellingham-II, commissioned by the University of Washington in 1971 and set in the rolling hills of the university's campus. The piece is a special type of fountain that gurgles underground and swells to an amorphous column of mist, which then dissipates. The form the piece takes is dependent on several factors: by the amount of heat generated at the university at different times of the year and by the weather-related variables such as the degree of sunshine, wind, and condensation in the air. Its interaction with the landscape and the viewer returns to Morris's ideas about perception and physical awareness and was a significant work in the burgeoning Land art movement.
Steam - Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington