Plenty of ink has been spilled on the topic of minimalism, a particular type of art process and product popularized during the 1960s. John Reyes, director for Bentley Gallery, describes it as art meant to be "totally objective, unexpressive, and non-referential." It followed something called abstract expressionism, a style prevalent during the 1940s and 1950s, which favored abstraction over realism and valued artwork filled with expressive qualities.
"Minimally Speaking," an exhibition on view at Bentley Gallery through the end of March, explores works by six artists who reflect the recognition that it's possible to combine impulses towards order and expression in a single work. It's most evident in a trio of works by Matthew Magee, which reflect mainstays of minimalism such as repeated lines and shapes while demonstrating the artist's own impulses towards whimsy and play.
Magee's From Here to There (1981-1989) runs diagonally across the floor of the gallery's central exhibition space. Like countless iterations of minimalist art made decades ago, the work was created with simple materials: rubber inner tube and wire mesh. But Magee infuses these materials with character by virtue of the way he's arranged them. His art has personality.
He's done something similar with Dotted Line (2013), which features another mainstay of minimalism -- the use of a single color. In this case, it's black. His single strip of felt balls and twine cascading from the ceiling feels like a taunt meant for minimalist predecessors who were clearly mistaken when they surmised that use of simple line and shape would strip artwork of emotive properties. This piece screams fun.
Reyes notes that artists featured in "Minimally Speaking," while influenced by minimalist predecessors, don't accept the premise that art should be void of expression or context. Instead, Reyes notes that "much of their work references their various interests and influences."
Exhibition signage notes that Magee grew up collecting, sorting and organizing various objects -- and has incorporates found objects such as discarded detergent bottles in his art practice. You'll see his gift for melding order with playfulness as you enter the gallery space -- where his Hanger 7 (2014), created with detergent bottles and wire, hangs on the feature wall.
We're especially struck by the ways particular works featured in "Minimally Speaking" seem to reference and counteract earlier works of minimalist art.
Six red sculptures made by Denise Yaghmourian with fabric, thread, paint, wire, and wood are mounted in a horizontal wave across a Bentley Gallery wall. Called Untitled (2015), they show a strong correlation to Donald Judd's Untitled, a 1973 work consisting of six brass and red Plexiglass cubes mounted in similar fashion, but in a perfectly horizontal line. Unlike Judd, Yaghmourian's Untitled features twisted shapes, and thread that dangles down from each shape, daring to challenge minimalism purists who would count such choices too expressive or laden with the artist's own perspective.
Carl Andre created Trabum (Element Series) in 1977 using nine rectangular pieces of Douglas fir to make a simple, unembellished cube -- which looks like the famed Rubik's Cube invented by a Hungarian professor of design trained in architecture and sculpture. Exhibition materials note artist Peter Millett's interest in geometry, shape, space, color, and surface -- something clearly reflected in Andre's works as well. Yet Millett uses paint to accentuate the grooves and crevices of his wood works, including Hipster (2104), thus imbuing his material with an expressive quality not otherwise present. Millett achieves a similar effect with works made of steel.
For gallery-goers not schooled in the minimalist movement or its context in the trajectory of art history, "Minimally Speaking" is still intriguing fare. John Luebtow, whose primary materials include kiln-formed glass, creates beautiful undulating shapes and curves that fold over themselves. Three of his works exhibited here stretch minimalist boundaries with subtlety and sophistication. But his Linear Form Wall Series-LF-W4-91/9 (2004) feels like a mischievous mash-up of minimalism with the abstract impressionism its creators sought to counter.
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Part of this exhibition's appeal is the diversity of media used by featured artists. Stephanie Blake builds small-scale abstract sculptures using bisque fired porcelain, creating works that sometimes look like perfectly pulled saltwater taffy. Mark Pomilio's trio of Early Catastrope works consist of charcoal on paper mounted to curved wood. His use of geometric shapes mirrors minimalist sensibilities, but his process is imbued with improvisation.
If minimalism were a martini, "Minimally Speaking" would be an appletini.
"Minimally Speaking" continues through Tuesday, March 31. For more information, visit the Bentley Gallery website.