Minimalist Sculptors – Their Methods and Their Influence

Minimalism has existed in many forms. We know it today as more of an aesthetic of interior design style, or a lifestyle for those wishing to cut back on unnecessary possessions. But minimalism in art helped to popularize both the aesthetic and ideals. Minimal sculpture helped pave the way to minimalist decor and furniture as well. 

Minimalist sculptors evolved the concept of minimalism in art, building on that which initially began on canvas. It helped bring the viewer into a purely artistic sense of mind, allowing them to observe shape and form and light in a physical way in the moment.

There were many artists creating sculptural minimalist works of art who contributed to the style, trends, and ideals of minimalist art. Generally the movement consisted of paring down art to its most basic forms and colors while not referencing any outside images, metaphors, and references. 

What Is a Minimalist Sculptor?

A minimalist sculptor is an artist who creates sculptures and 3-dimensional works of art that follow the guidelines of the minimalist movement. The lines are usually smooth, simple, and the shapes themselves basic and geometric with flowing lines.

The sculptor takes these design elements and utilized the physical form to express that simplicity and flowingness in such a way as to allow viewers to feel and experience it in an art form.

Minimal sculpture with blue sky - Minimalist Sculptors - Gone Minimal
Minimal sculpture with blue sky

What Is the Main Concept of Minimalist Sculpture?

Minimalist art in general aims to not reflect or reference reality or nature in any capacity. It strips down what was previously known of art practices to just the essential shapes, colors, and lines. When seeing a work of minimalist art, a viewer is meant to only interact with that work as it is and not bring in any outside references. Minimalist sculpture interrogates the relationship between a work of art and the space it inhabits. It is often a conversation between the work of art, the viewer, and the space they both take up.

Why Would a Sculptor Choose a Minimalist Genre?

 There are many reasons an artist would choose the minimalist genre. Perhaps it was the movement of their time that challenged the current expectations of the art world and aligned with their belief systems. Other times, an artist might just identify with the aesthetic of a certain movement.

Styles of Minimalist Sculpture

Like most artistic movements, minimalism is a rather broad term that encapsulates many different movements under its umbrella. Most share the general ideals of minimalism such as focusing the viewer on the art in front of them only, breaking down artistic expression to its simplest colors, shapes and lines, and exploring how art interacts with space.

Post Minimalist SculpturePost-minimalism, like the other “post-x” movements (post Impressionism, postmodernism, etc.) aim to bring together contemporaneous art movements while still adhering to some of the guidelines of its predecessor. Post minimalist sculpture, like minimalist sculpture, aims to focus the viewer on the here and now, or the art that is directly in front of them—as opposed to the expressions of the artist, or reference to biblical/mythological stories. But unlike minimalism, Post-Minimalism uses more fluid and open forms, not as rigid and geometric as their earlier counterparts. 
Modern Minimalist SculptureMinimalism is a part of modern art which spanned into the 1950s and 60s. Minimalist sculpture is characterized by geometric shapes, open spaces, and a sense of order. These characteristics extend to sculptural works as well as paintings. The artist wants the viewer to respond to the art in front of them which with sculptures includes the space in which the art exists. 
Contemporary Minimalist SculptureContemporary Minimalism aligns very heavily with Modern Minimalism because the movement of minimalism spans through the mid to late 20th century. The movement itself exists in both modern and contemporary art and is one of the transitional movements between modernism and contemporary art. The later minimalist artists tend to be more relaxed when it comes to form and color than the early minimalists.

Types of Minimalist Sculptures

There are many types of minimalist sculpture. They share the common ideal of interacting with the space they inhabit and tend to be a reaction to their environment. The location a minimalist sculpture exists in is as important to the piece as the shape and form. 

Minimalism Garden Sculptures

Minimalist garden sculptures tend to follow more natural forms that mimic the nature they are surrounded by. The use of industrial materials in conjunction with the floral garden surroundings offers a harmony between natural and industrial.

Garden with plants as animals
Garden with minimalist sculptures

Minimalism Outdoor Sculptures

Minimalist outdoor sculptures tend to react to the spaces they occupy like any other minimalist work of art but since they are outside, the scale can usually be grander and reflects surrounding buildings or geographical forms. 

Minimalism Decor Sculptures

Minimalism as decor tends to be smaller and more versatile because they are made to interact with an indoor space which is limited compared to outdoor spaces. They are specifically meant to interact with an interior design in mind.

Minimalism Ceramic Sculptures

Not always the case, but often minimalist ceramic sculptures can be both aesthetically minimalist as well as being practical. They can be bowls or incense holders, etc. Or they can be works of art in and of themselves. The thing they have in common is they are made of clay and follow minimalistic trends of form and color.

Minimalism Table Sculptures

There are two meanings for this term, either a small sculpture that fits on a table top, or minimalist designed furniture such as tables. You might be thinking, how does a table get more minimalist, they’re already pretty simple. And in a lot of ways, minimalist table design often adds more features to the piece but keeps the general shape minimalist Geometric shapes like spheres or pyramids might replace the legs, or they might be made of concrete. The difference between a minimalist sculpture and a table sculpture may simply be that you’re allowed to put stuff on top of a table sculpture. 

Minimalist Wall Sculptures

The first minimalist sculptures were actually wall pieces, and works of art that are hung on the walls are an integral part of minimalist art. Before the minimalists, many abstract and modern artists were experimenting with 3-D elements on the canvas. The minimalists began with greeting 3-D wall sculptures before liberating their sculptures from the gallery walls completely. Minimalist wall sculptures follow the themes of minimalism but come off from the limits of a flat wall. 

Most Famous Works of Minimalist Sculptors

To better understand minimalist sculpture, it may help to look at some famous works of art by well known minimalists. 

Untitled (mirrored cubes) by Robert Morris

This work of art is four cubes made of a mirrored surface. As the viewer walks around the sculpture, their body is reflected back on them, causing the viewer to almost become a part of the work itself. As mentioned, minimalist sculpture aims to interrogate hw a work of art reacts to the space it’s in and Morris’s cubes do that by bringing an image of the viewer into the work. 

White Cubes by Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt did not consider himself to be a minimalist, but his white cube series aesthetically aligns with a lot of minimalist practices. These works look like a drawing of a cube brought into the third dimension, made of aluminum painted white. They could easily blend into the white gallery walls, but because they have a 3-D form, they cannot be easily walked past. They force the viewer in contact with a nearly invisible work of art.

Rainbow Pickett by Judy Chicago

Rainbow Pickett is a nearly room-sized sculpture made up of six, differently colored trapezoidal shapes. The work leans between the wall and the floor almost seeming to melt off the wall and onto the floor which challenges how far canvases are “allowed” to come out from the flat wall. The work was ultimately destroyed because it took too much space in storage. But what could be more minimalist in concept than a work being destroyed because it no longer is a necessary piece. 

Moondog by Tony Smith

Moondog is a 1964 work of geometric shapes that come together in a vaguely dog-like shape. Though aesthetically minimalist, the sculpture actually challenges a lot of minimalist themes. To begin, the fact that it does represent something in nature: ie a dog, it cannot purely be minimalistic. Additionally, though the minimalists used geometric shapes because they contradict what is found in nature, Smith disagrees that geometry is unnatural. He studied and drew inspiration from crystalline forms which is where the fluid shape of his works come from. 

Here is an insightful video below on minimal art and sculpture:

Contemporary Minimalist Sculptors and Sculpture Artists

Tony Smith (1912–1980)

Tony Smith was an American visual artist and architectural designer. He is considered an early minimalist sculpture, though his works were inspired by the geometric forms naturally created by crystals in nature. He is known for his larger scale, outdoor sculptures. 

Carl Andre (1935-) 

An American minimalist artist known for his gridded structures and sculptures. He used common industrial materials in his works and was inspired by things like floors, and sidewalks. His art has not changed since he began work with the minimalist artists, and he has been accused of assisting in the death of his wife, Ana Mendieta.

Larry Bell (born 1939)

An American contemporary artist and sculptor best known for his glass boxes. He was interested in how light played with surfaces and structures which is why he chose to mainly work with glass, an uncommon material for popular artists to work with outside of a craftsman trade. 

Donald Judd (1928–1994)

Judd was an American artist commonly associated with the minimalist movement, though he did not consider himself a minimalist. He wanted his works to have a sense of autonomy and be able to stand alone as works in their own space. He was very interested in the theory of 3-D objects and how they challenged expectations of art at the time. 

Robert Morris (1931-2018)

Morris was a conceptual artist and sculptor,who had a vision of art pared down to the simplest geometric shapes with no metaphorical associations and focused on the art work’s interaction with the viewer. He also participated in land art, which brought sculptures outside of the gallery and into spaces of nature, often away from human interaction. 

Frank Stella (born 1936)

Frank Stella is an American painter, printmaker, and sculptor, best known for his works of minimalist art. Unlike many other minimalists, Stella eventually used a lot of color along with geometric shapes, colors that were popular in the 1960s. He also combined art on canvas with minimalist sculpture by using shaped canvas stretchers to create shaped flat works. 

Minimalist art in general aims to not reflect or reference reality or nature in any capacity.

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The history of minimalism in art and sculpture is vast and intricate, but it gets easier to understand when we know the basics of the movement and the intentions of the artist. The minimalists wanted to create works that forces the viewer to only experience the art that was right in front of them, and bringing the works into the third dimension and onto the gallery floors helped to bring the attention solely to the artworks.

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Is Minimalist Sculpture Emotional and Sensual?

Minimalist sculpture is often viewed as being cold and unemotional, often due to its restricted color palette and sharp shapes. But the emotional response you as a viewer feel for a piece or that the artist intended can be personal and open to interpretation.

Does Minimalist Sculpture Challenge Traditional Sculpture?

Every new art movement aims to challenge its predecessors and minimalism is no exception. While traditional sculpture usually depicts humans, gods, and mythical characters, minimalism doesn’t reference anything in the natural world and is meant to stand out in its space in a confrontational way to the viewer.

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