One of the first things I hear in a gallery of people viewing Minimal or Reductive art is “what is it?” I credit the diminishing value we have placed on art education over the years and the fact that often the most simplistic moments of life are the most overwhelming and confusing to people. Maybe most people just need their hand held as someone does the once over and provides a basic explanation at viewing these kinds of works.
The first thing a viewer can do is to acknowledge what they see and what they can already interpret on first sight. Are there discernible elements to the work or is it comprised of one solitary anchor that is the art? Is it monochromatic or are there multiple colors? Is texture important or does the artist try to remove it from the piece? Does the size the artist chose to represent his idea make an impact to me? What does the empty space in the work, if any, do in relation to what I can see? Does the space in the room around the art suddenly come in to action as a result of placing this piece here?
A blue three-dimensional cube sitting in the middle of a gallery, silent and clean, now can become much more complicated than an Impressionist luncheon party does hanging on the far wall of a museum. Removing all labeling by artists who create objects and images as art-for-art-sake, let us suppose that one of the primary functions of these types of work is to highlight and focus our thoughts on relationships. Take, for instance, the blue 3D cube in the middle of a gallery. It is approximately four feet high and it is made of translucent plexiglass so you can see in and through.
My first thoughts with objects as such is that the artist has trapped space. He has built a fence around air. He used a clear object to allow the viewer to see inside, to highlight this space of air and to let us see it as a cube. How many cubes like this could one make in this room I stand in? How big is this cube in relation to the the whole room? How big is it compared to me? Has he trapped/eliminated/segregated a tenth of the space? A fifth? How much space do I take up?
Blue is the color of the sky, of thin air. Does the artist seek to highlight this idea of trapped air? I think that color is a very subjective experience in terms of these kinds of works, so there is always a certain danger in trying to read too deeply in to an artist’s choice of hue. Sometimes the representation is clearcut: violent shades of red tend to evoke strong emotions and mental connections for a viewer (whether of blood, or danger, or true love.) But, in the case of works that are repeated or in series, sometimes the choice of color is purely for aesthetic quality. Art for art sake.
In twenty minutes of observing a minimal object, far longer than most people give any piece of artwork in a gallery, a viewer can create a whole world surrounding the object much like the world that already does surround the object. The same for two-dimensional works on paper which can be easily thought of as photographs of the future or of a map of the insides of one’s head.
There is a world of complexity available to simply constructed artwork. Often, the viewer needs to do a little research or rely on curators or gallery workers for informaton in to the artist’s work process or intentions. With a fair amount of thought, however, you can begin to understand more and more why artists choose to work in such mediums, as long as you trust your own interpretations knowing that there is never one correct answer to the problems we create and solve. Unfortunately, many people expect to view the answer to life with such immediacy they instead leave with confusion and their own unanswered questions.