No Such Thing as Minimalism: Or, What’s so restrained about restraints?

by on Aug.20, 2010

I’m convinced there is no such thing as minimalism. I can’t think of an example in any art form that is convincingly ‘minimal’ to me. Works that usually fall into this category scream fetish at me—an elaborately enforced silence, an elaborately enforced stillness, an elaborately enforced sheen, an elaborately enforced pose. And exposed in each of those ‘enforcements’ is ‘force’. I feel space (of the page, of the gallery, of the concert hall) become impacted by these requirements, solid as a tooth in the jaw. Language usually also packs this ‘emptied’ space like infected bone. Moreover, ‘restraint’ and ‘constraint’ always seem to produce or reveal ‘strain’.

My favorite example of ‘restraint’ not producing minimalism is Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraints. Already deeply in debt to Jack Smith among other sources, Barney makes an absolute expenditure of withholding; his restraint from drawing implodes into acts of wild costume, gesture, texture, insertion, extrusion, multiphilia.

A secondary language of minimalism is the economy of spaces and contexts in which it appears: bank lobbies, bank plazas, the middle of carefully cleaned white pages, under magazine laminate, hissing from the microphone in the acoustical hall. All these environments and adornments and contexts amount to a secondary ‘language’ of minimalism which is the opposite of absence.  The tertiary language of minimalism: money. As we all know from ‘shelter’ magazines, it costs a lot to look like you don’t own anything at all. In the case of ‘minimalist’ writing (what is this anyway? writing that uses few words? few lines?) context is the fee.

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3 comments for this entry:
  1. The Modesto Kid

    I have always thought of minimalism as meaning “in opposition to æsthetic complexity” — It seems like there is at least one sense of “complexity” where it is valid to say that Donald Judd is less complex, more “minimal”, than Barocci — though in other senses of course Judd’s work could be seen as equally or more complex. “Minimal” seems like a good, useful adjective to have around just like “Baroque” is useful, both just need to be used free of certain shorthand connotations.

  2. The Modesto Kid

    BTW I like your use of “fetish” here a lot.

  3. Leeyanne Moore

    I really get what you mean about how much it costs to look like you have nothing. There does seem to be a kind of luxurious extravagance in the art of taking almost everything away.

    Some of the hardcore minimalist stuff gets too close to The Emperor Has No Clothes for my comfort. If there is no aesthetic complexity is it actually art?

    In the end I really enjoy what you’re saying.