Minimal Means focuses on the similarities and differences of a group of artists originating in the late 1950s and 1960s in the United States, Brazil and Spain. This project looks at three creative contexts that have never before been studied together or juxtaposed in an exhibition. With common roots in the art of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and the experience of the Bauhaus, the artists in the exhibition that this publication documents expanded the legacy of constructivism and geometric abstraction into a new era.
Informed by new theories about our being in the world, from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s linguistics, the artists in this book seek to transform the modes of sensory perception through radical formal investigation.
Notably, this is the first exhibition that brings together North American artists such as Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Sol LeWitt, with others from Europe and Latin America such as Jorge Oteiza, Manuel Barbadillo, Elena Asins, Jordi Teixidor, José María Yturralde, Mira Schendel, Willys de Castro, Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica.
The publication is organized around common themes and formal solutions adopted by these artists, such as squares, modules, grids, lines and structures, and cross-examines the different political and cultural contexts that gave rise to these unique formal investigations.
This is not an exhibition about influences, but a reflection about points of contact through geographic displacement, travels and friendships that led to individual elaborations of a shared legacy. Some of the artists barely knew each other; others moved from one part of the world to another becoming essential points of exchange.
For instance, Josef Albers was very present in the Brazil of the 1950s, connecting advanced artistic practices in the US and the avant-garde in Latin America. Spanish sculptor Jorge Oteiza traveled several times to Brazil in the 1950s, where he won the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 4th Bienal de São Paulo in 1957, establishing a bridge between the art of the future Neo-Concrete group with the artistic proposals that were just starting to flourish in Francoist Spain. Also, in the late 1950s, Manuel Barbadillo arrived in New York, a sojourn that will mark a transition from the subjectivism of Informalism to a rational modular system that in the 1960s will inform the artistic philosophy of the artists concentrated around the seminars organized by the Centro de Cálculo of the Universidad de Madrid.
Minimal Means originates in a time when fostering conversation between different countries, languages and cultures is extremely needed. This exhibition also intends to be a reflection about a crucial period in the history of art discernable by remarkable women at the forefront of the art practice. Just to name a few, I would like to mention Agnes Martin in the United States, Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark and Mira Schendel in Brazil, and Elena Asins in Spain.
My deepest gratitude is with the many colleagues, private collectors and artists’ estates who made possible the exhibition that this publication documents. I wish to extend a special note of gratitude to Michelle and Asher B. Edelman, who in addition to their friendship and kindness provided their beautiful space on the Upper East Side to host the exhibition.