Robert Morris

 

Robert Morris (1931–2018) was one of the most influential figures in postwar American art. His extraordinarily versatile practice encompassed dance performance, minimalist sculpture, earthworks, drawing, painting, film, photography, collage, readymades and theoretical essays. Primarily based in New York City, the artist explored in his oeuvre the perception of objects, and how viewers renegotiate their sense of space when confronted by one of his works. Throughout his long career, he grappled with the conditions of artistic display and production and the dynamics of theoretical and social discourse.

 

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Morris began his career in the 1950s as a painter of gestural, Abstract Expressionist-style paintings. His growing dissatisfaction with the limitations of the medium and the movement culminated in a systematic expansion of his artistic practice in the early 1960s. The artist’s earliest conceptual sculptures playfully blur fixed boundaries between subject and object. Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961), for instance, consists of a handmade, skull-sized, walnut wood box that contains a sound recording of hammering, sawing and drilling noises from the construction of the box itself. It was during that same period that Morris also developed a series of choreographic dance performances including War (1963), 21.3 (1964) and Waterman Switch (1965), which the artist performed with the Judson Dance Theater alongside such artists as Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann and Lucinda Childs. These performances fundamentally informed his thinking about art and the physical and aesthetic experiences of the self that it mediates.

The sculptural, minimalist objects Morris developed in those same years are radically charged with performativity. Works including Three L-Beams (1965), Mirrored Cubes (1965) or Ring with Light (1965/66) deliberately enact specific moments of perceptual confusion, soliciting from the viewer a range of different “I” positions and a constant re-adjustment of their sensory experience. Morris would intensify this quality in later work by making greater use of such flexible, changeable materials as plywood, steel wire mesh and felt. The felt sculptures he made from the late 1960s onward balance on the threshold between form and anti-form. Gravity determines the shape this malleable material will ultimately take. The metal grommets used to attach these sculptures to the wall are a visible part of the work and represent a departure from the Minimalist insistence on the autonomous aura of the art object.

The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s saw a further, often unexpected expansion of the artist’s practice: Morris experimented with a range of media including photography and film, created such provocative collages as Voice (1974), earthworks including The Observatory (1977), the drawings in his Firestorm series (1982) among others, along with wall reliefs like The Martyr (1986) employing such materials as lead, acrylic, and fiberglass. This also marked the first time he explicitly addressed such social and political topics as the growing technologization of everyday life, the nuclear threat, and later US-led wars in the Persian Gulf region.

Robert Morris resolutely defied conventional art-historical classifications and movements as few artists did. He considered his artistic practice a single, coherent work, a continuous project and a sustained, philosophical-artistic experiment. His entire oeuvre, regardless of medium, attempts nothing less than the creation of a complex, sometimes paradoxical space—a space that returns to the viewer those same processes of experience and perception that seem so elusive today.

 

Robert Morris: Untitled (L-Beams), 1965
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2011
Courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Works
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Sprüth Magers Berlin
Installation view

Robert Morris
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, February 10–April 4 2012

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994

Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Installation view, 'Robert Morris: Films and Videos. Bodyspace Motionthings',
Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, July 23 - Nov 6

Robert Morris
Installation view, 'Robert Morris: Films and Videos. Bodyspace Motionthings',
Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, July 23 – Nov 6
Photo: Filipe Braga, 2011

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Films and Video / Bodyspace Motionthings
Installation view, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, 2011

Robert Morris
Films and Video / Bodyspace Motionthings
Installation view, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, 2011

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017

Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Photo: Timo Ohler

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968

Robert Morris
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, February 10–April 4 2012

More views
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994

Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Evening Terror, 1981-1987-2008

Robert Morris
Installation view, 'Morning Star, Evening Star', Sprüth Magers, London, June 6–August 9, 2008

More views
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Chairs, 2001

Robert Morris
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, February 10–April 4 2012

More views
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017

Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Photo: Timo Ohler

Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Blind Time (Grief)
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 12, 2010–January 8, 2011

Robert Morris
Blind Time (Grief)
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 12, 2010–January 8, 2011

Details
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, February 10–April 4 2012

Robert Morris
Sprüth Magers Berlin
Installation view
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994

Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Installation view, 'Robert Morris: Films and Videos. Bodyspace Motionthings',
Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, July 23 – Nov 6
Photo: Filipe Braga, 2011

Robert Morris
Installation view, 'Robert Morris: Films and Videos. Bodyspace Motionthings',
Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, July 23 - Nov 6
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Films and Video / Bodyspace Motionthings
Installation view, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, 2011

Robert Morris
Films and Video / Bodyspace Motionthings
Installation view, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, 2011
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Photo: Timo Ohler

Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, February 10–April 4 2012

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968 (detail)

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968 (detail)

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968 (detail)

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 2012 (detail)

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 2012
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968 (detail)

Robert Morris
Scatter Piece, 1968
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009

Robert Morris
Notes on Sculpture
Installation view, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 2009
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994

Robert Morris
Early Felts
Installation view, Galerie Philomene Magers, Cologne, 1994
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Installation view, 'Morning Star, Evening Star', Sprüth Magers, London, June 6–August 9, 2008

Robert Morris
Evening Terror, 1981-1987-2008
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Evening Terror, 1981-1987-2008 (detail)

Robert Morris
Evening Terror, 1981-1987-2008
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, February 10–April 4 2012

Robert Morris
Chairs, 2001
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Chairs, 2001 (detail)

Robert Morris
Chairs, 2001
Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Chairs, 2001 (detail)

Robert Morris
Chairs, 2001
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Photo: Timo Ohler

Robert Morris
Refractions
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Blind Time (Grief)
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 12, 2010–January 8, 2011

Robert Morris
Blind Time (Grief)
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, November 12, 2010–January 8, 2011
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Robert Morris
Photo: Remi Villaggi, Mudam Luxembourg

Robert Morris
Robert Morris – The Perceiving Body
February 8-April 26, 2020
Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg-Kirchberg

Robert Morris (b.1931, Kansas City, Missouri; d. 2018, Kingston, New York) is a key figure in the history of art after 1960. As opposed to the model of the survey, in which many examples of work are brought together to demonstrate variety or range, Robert Morris. The Perceiving Body is organised as a constellation of seven discrete rooms, each containing a single installation or a group of related objects.

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Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Robert Morris

Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris
Donald Judd, Craig Kauffman, Robert Morris
January 19–March 31, 2018
London

Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris is Sprüth Magers’ second curated exhibition presenting Craig Kauffman’s work displayed alongside his influences and contemporaries. The show presents six works from Kauffman’s fertile period of 1966–71, when he addressed the issues of structure and form in painting, the use of industrial materials, painting’s relationship to the wall, and dematerialization. His work is contextualized by the inclusion of work by Donald Judd and Robert Morris, as well as supplemental materials from the Kauffman archives.

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Robert Morris
Refractions
November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Berlin

Robert Morris is regarded as one of the most influential figures in American postwar and contemporary art. He has been heralded a pioneer of the minimalist and Anti-form movements and is also considered to be one of the most prominent theorists of art and art making of his generation, having written numerous critical essays on the subject throughout his career. His iconoclastic and interdisciplinary oeuvre spans sculpture, installation, drawing, performance, film, and dance. In his new exhibition, Refractions, Morris brings together six works produced at various points during his career – the earliest dating from 1961, and the most recent from 2014. This sequence of works conveys his unconventional handling of sculptural forms to create dynamic and sensory relationships between object, space, and viewer.

Morris’ unique approach to the medium of sculpture evolved from the mid-1960s. Proceeding from minimalism, he detached himself from the autonomous aura of the art object to address, above all, the process of artistic production, consistently bringing it to the fore as an essential component of his work. Morris adopted industrial materials such as plywood, fiberglass, aluminum, steel and felt, to produce pared-down geometric forms that were often fabricated by industrial workers under his instruction. These choices positioned him alongside other American minimalist and post-minimalist artists, as well as their European counterparts from the Arte Povera movement; both were predicated on the liberation of art objects from the restraints of traditional practice and materials.

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Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Hanging Soft and Standing Hard
May 3–June 15, 2013
London

Considered one of the most important American artists of the post-war generation, Robert Morris’s interdisciplinary work, which extends from objects, sculptures and drawings, through performances all the way to films and texts, explores the relationship between art, gesture and the body. The artist assumed a visible position in determining both the objectives and the tenor of Minimalism in America in the 1960’s, detaching himself early on from a rigid concept of the work of art as an autonomous object and addressing above all the process of artistic production, which he displayed as an essential component of his works.

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Robert Morris
February 10–April 4, 2012
Berlin

The interdisciplinary work of Robert Morris, which extends from objects, sculptures, and drawings through performances all the way to films and texts, has exercised a strong influence on developments in art ever since the 1960s. As an important thinker at the end of the avant-gardes of modernism, proceeding from Minimal Art, he detached himself early on from a rigid concept of the work of art and from the autonomous aura of the object, addressing above all the process of artistic production, which he displayed as an essential component of his works.

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Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Robert Morris
Blind Time (Grief)
November 12, 2010–January 8, 2011
Berlin

Robert Morris began work on the first group of Blind Time Drawings in 1973 which comprised ninety-eight sheets. The subsequent groups, up to the latest series, are less comprehensive, but even so, the ensemble constitutes one of the largest bodies of works created by an artist blindfolded. In the first instance the titles describe the way in which the drawings were made: with closed eyes. Through the use of a mixture of graphite or powdered pigments and oil, Morris left traces of his fingers and hands on the paper. Bringing these works close to the genre of the ‘task performance’, each drawing was based on an assignment of tasks which were previously defined and written out at the bottom of the sheet afterwards.

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Robert Morris
Morning Star Evening Star
June 26–August 29, 2008
London

This new series of sculptures which originates from a period of 27 years consists of four wall-mounted reliefs entitled Morning Terror, Evening Terror, Normal Terror and Standard Terror. Like monuments for the victims of the ‘war on terror’, Morris’ timely sculptures can be seen as modern cenotaphs, public monuments erected in the memory of victims of war and other political disasters.

Robert Morris
Press

Der ewig Suchende
art Das Kunstmagazin, article by Heinz Peter Schwerfel, February 2020

Robert Morris, Founding Minimalist Sculptor With Manifold Passions, Dies at 87
The New York Times, article by Ken Johnson, November 29, 2018

Odd man in: A sculptor forges ahead
The New York Times, interview by Phyllis Tuchman, March 18-19, 2017

Bauchgefühl im Spiegelkabinett
Welt, article by Gesine Borcherdt, December 31, 2016

Eternal Return: Jeffrey Weiss on Robert Morris’s Recent Work
Artforum, article by Jeffrey Weiss, February 2014

Robert Morris
Interview Magazine, interview by Wade Guyton, January 5, 2014

Robert Morris
Frieze, review by Andrew Hunt, September 1, 2010

Robert Morris
Frieze, review by Mark Prince, May 1, 2012

Robert Morris: “The Mind/Body Problem”
Kunstforum, article by Jutta Schenk-Sorge, 1994

Biography

Robert Morris (1931–2018). Selected solo exhibitions include The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg (2020), National Gallery of Modern & Contemporary Art, Rome (2019), Sprüth Magers, Berlin and Mart Rovereto (both 2016), The Ashville Art Museum (2012), Institut Valencià D’Art Modern (2011), Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach (2010), Musée d’Art Contemporain, Lyon (2006), Guggenheim Museum, New York (1994), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1986), Tate, London (1971) and Whitney Museum, New York (1970). Selected group exhibitions include Documenta 8 (1987) and Documenta 6 (1977), and the 39th and 38th Venice Biennials (1980 and 1978).

Education
1967 Assistant Professor, Hunter College
1961 Hunter College (graduate work: Master of Arts in Art History)
1953 Reed College, Oregon
1951 California School of Fine Arts
1948 University of Kansas City, Kansas City Art Institute
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
1978 Skowhegan Medal for Progress and Environment
Public Collections
Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Santa Monica
Castello di Rivoli Museod’Arte Contemporanea, Turin
Fotomuseum Winterthur
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman, OK
Generali Foundation, Vienna
Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Klasma - Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Kunstmuseum Lichtenstein, Vaduz
Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, MO
Leeds Art Gallery
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne
Musée Cantonal d’Arte Lugano
Musée d'art Contemporain, Montréal
Musée d'Art Contemporain Lyon
Musée d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, Naples
Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto
Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde
Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA
Seattle Art Museum
Samek Art Gallery, Lewisburg, PA
Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, Burnaby, BC
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Tate, London
The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT