Minimal Geometries and Other Concerns

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Minimal Geometries and Other Concerns Lynn Zelevansky, ed. Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form, 1940s-70s. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. 240 pp., 130 color ills, 102 b/w. $49.95.

Ann Goldstein and Lisa Mark, eds. A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958-1968. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. 452 pp., 157 color ills, 213 b/w. $50.

Frank Stella was not alone in considering a relationship between Minimalism and Geometric Abstraction blasphemous; the idea remained taboo in North American academia for years. In Europe, however, the tone has been different. German art historian Willy Rotzler, for example, found it logical to finish his book Constructive Concepts (1977) with a chapter on Minimalism, while, more recently the French exhibition Art Concret (2000), included works by reputable Minimalists such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Dan Flavin. But we should remember that in the United States, George Rickey included works by Andre and Stella in his largely forgotten book Constructivism: Origins and Evolution, published in 1967, at a moment when, despite Stella's and Judd's dismissal of parallel experiments with the reductivist shapes of geometry and noncompositionality in Europe, the new American sculpture largely consisted of a diversity of approaches and experiments with the legacy of Geometric Abstraction and Constructivism.

The impure and repressed liaisons suggested above are explored by the two revisionist publications that concern me here. Both are catalogues accompanying major exhibitions of Minimalism and Geometric Abstraction in the postwar period. The first, edited by Ann Goldstein, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in collaboration with Lisa Mark, the museum's director of publications, acknowledges the hybridity of proposals generated in the United States by morphological and conceptual strategies such as the use of industrial materials, geometric shapes, environmental scale and seriality. The second, edited by Lynn Zelevansky, a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, places these morphological and conceptual tendencies in relation to the analogous experiments with geometric abstraction that took place in Europe and South America. Indeed, the relevant connections between Minimalism and Art Concret repudiated by Stella and Judd are sketched by Zelevansky in her introductory essay to Beyond Geometry. But Zelevansky's project is not so much to dwell on specific parallel strategies and operations (assimilated, contested, or displaced), but rather to foreground the internationalism of systemic structures and simplified morphologies. She does this by looking at the intercontinental triad François Morcllct (Paris), Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro), and Mel Bochner (NewYork), whose works trigger an insightful introduction to the catalogue. Nevertheless, Zelevansky's text leaves unanswered the question of how related conceptual and morphological structures can develop in different locales, independent of proven chains of influence and communication-a key point to the exhibition and catalogue, which calls attention to the global simultaneity of artistic processes and aesthetic strategies. Moreover, despite her innovative threefold approach, Zelevansky does not attempt to develop a comparative model of analysis. Instead she limits herself to sketching certain common points of reference, such as the centrality of the viewer to the work in question.

Inès Katzenstein continues this internationalist model in "Reality Rush: Shifts of Form, 1965-1968," an essay that explores one of the major themes in both Beyond Geometry and in A Minimalist Future?: the relationship between a renewed interest in geometric abstraction and the conceptual strategies of the period. Katzenstein maps an intercontinental "crossroad" through the work of Daniel Buren (Paris), David Lamelas (Buenos Aires), Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro), and Robert Smithson (New York)-all artists whose early work explored the limits, possibilities, elasticity, and alternatives to the simplified geometries of modernity. …