Less is More: The Minimal Print

February 8–May 5, 2013

The intentionally inexpressive geometries of Minimalist works of art may at first appear as meaningless arrangements of colored squares, rectangles, and lines devoid of content – essentially an art of nothing. However, this influential post-war American movement fundamentally re-imagined the viewer-object relationship by placing greater emphasis on individual perception and experience.

Emerging in the early 1960s in reaction to its predecessor Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism is best described by artist Frank Stella’s famous statement, “What you see is what you see.” Whereas Abstract Expressionists created uninhibited works full of feeling and metaphor, Minimalists purged their art of emotion and allusion, distilling abstraction to its purest form: what is visible to the naked eye. Their works resist interpretation and use limited means to produce the most immediate experience for viewers.

Many Minimalist artists sought to relinquish evidence of the artist’s hand by using industrial means and materials, often working with manufacturers. Minimalists found that printmaking’s similarly technical, complex, and collaborative processes perfectly suited their inexpressive aesthetic. With the proliferation of professional printmaking studios in the late 1950s, Minimalists, like their Pop contemporaries, could exploit and enhance the unprecedented technical capabilities newly available to them. Consequently, Minimalists made rigorously simple, depersonalized images that present prints for what they are: impressions of ink on paper.

Minimalist artists were able to exploit new printing techniques to accentuate physical properties unique to prints. These artists embraced and emphasized the negative space of the paper, the qualities of printed ink, as well as the distinct edges and surfaces of both the paper and printed forms. The whole print—both paper and image—becomes a tangible object in the viewer’s space to be experienced without the burden of interpretation.

Less is More: The Minimal Print displays prints from SCMA’s permanent collection by artists such as Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Ryman, Richard Tuttle, and others.

Image credit: Josef Albers. American born Germany, 1888–1976. Homage to the Square – MMA-2, 1970. Silkscreen printed in four colors on Mohawk Superfine Bristol paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.