Maximising minimalism

Gerard Byrne,  A thing is a hole in a thing it is not , 2010, still; five-channel HD video projection, 2mins to 30mins duration; image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery; © Gerard Byrne

Gerard Byrne, A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, 2010, still; five-channel HD video projection, 2mins to 30mins duration; image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery; © Gerard Byrne

In Gerard Byrne’s five-channel video installation A thing is a hole in a thing it is not (2010), the Irish artist recreates several key moments in our generally accepted history of minimal art. There is a 1964 radio conversation between three of the New York art movement’s high priests, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Frank Stella, for example. And the cosmic 1951 drive by Tony Smith along the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike, illuminated only by his car lights, that was later mythologised in his famous 1966 interview in Artforum. That drive, he said, revealed to him a new way of seeing things in the world: ‘It seemed that there had been a reality there which had not had any expression in art.’ It was a reality that had to be reckoned with and experienced afresh.

Minimalism brought the art object into a new and direct relationship with the viewer, as if pulled out of the darkness and into intimate focus by the high beam of Smith’s car, and contemporary art was forever changed. But a new exhibition in Southeast Asia suggests that we may have been on the wrong road in our historical thinking about minimal art.

A project conversely and, perhaps ironically, maximal in scale, ‘Minimalism: Space. Light. Object’ spans two Singapore venues (the National Gallery and the ArtScience Museum) and around six decades of art, corralling some 70 international artists under the mantle of minimalism. It is an enormous and immaculately executed undertaking, drawing important works from far-flung collections, including many from Australian institutions (though not Malevich’s Black Square from the Hermitage; that’s been in Sydney), with the curatorial research deepened by a satisfyingly scholarly catalogue that lives up to Stella’s maxim of ‘what you see is what you see’. What can be gleaned from all of this is something as revelatory as Smith’s drive: a new understanding of the relationship between minimalism and Asian art.

Michael Fitzgerald, Singapore

For the full article, see Art Monthly’s forthcoming March 2019 issue.