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Vue de l’exposition "Robert Morris. The Perceiving Body", 08.02.2020 — 26.04.2020, Mudam Luxembourg
Robert Morris

The Perceiving Body

Robert Morris (b.1931, Kansas City, Missouri; d. 2018, Kingston, New York) is a key figure in the history of art after 1960. As opposed to the model of the survey, in which many examples of work are brought together to demonstrate variety or range, Robert Morris. The Perceiving Body is organised as a constellation of seven discrete rooms, each containing a single installation or a group of related objects.

During the 60s and 70s, Morris produced what are now considered to be canonical works of Minimal and Postminimal art. The works were primarily concerned with acts of making and beholding. They were made by Morris (and, later, by others) from materials and means drawn largely from the construction industry. In form, these objects eschew the compositional conventions of modernist abstraction, being based instead on principles of repetition, permutation, and chance. In scale, they observe a direct, 1:1 relation between the sculptural object and the body of the artist or observer – the ‘perceiving body.’ This emphasis on an encounter – between the subject and object – has its roots in advanced art circles of performance and dance with which Robert Morris has worked closely. Placed directly on the floor, the objects are non-monumental yet big enough to fully engage the space of the room: they confront, obstruct, or intervene.

The exhibition includes celebrated examples of the artist’s work, such as Untitled (3Ls) (1965/1970) and Untitled (Mirrored Cubes) (1965/1971), and various early ‘large-form’ constructions in plywood, fibreglass, and steel mesh that hold, transmit, or reflect light. Also shown are process-based works using soft felt, and a related work, Untitled (Scatter Piece) (1968-1969/2009), a complex installation partly devised according to chance operations derived from John Cage (b. 1912, Los Angeles; d. 1992, New York). Finally, Untitled (Portland Mirrors) (1977) is a large installation with mirrors – an expansive illusion of multiple spaces that both summons and defeats the principle of one-point perspective.

Morris’ work concerns the relation of what we see to what we know. He sometimes described his practice of this period as a series of ‘investigations,’ a term – borrowed from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (b. 1889, Vienna; d. 1951, Cambridge) – that implies an almost scientific purpose. Yet the work possesses other implications. For example, Morris spoke of his progress as having been framed by philosophical doubt. We note that his work was produced during the era of American involvement in the war in Vietnam, a time of intense cultural upheaval in the United States, when political authority was subject to waves of public opposition. The propositional nature of the work of Morris and his contemporaries – the notion that each object represents a kind of experiment, a ‘what-if’ proposition – corresponds to the mood of anti-authoritarianism among those on the American cultural Left.

Finally, for all its methodical precision, Morris’ practice was searching, even deeply subjective. Indeed, while the work of these two-decades was based on the notion that vision is inseparable from bodily sensation, the 1970s saw the emergence of new factors and themes, such as disorientation, blindness, and illusion. According to the artist’s writings, these elements reflect an emphasis on intensive interiority, a search for the self. Much later, Morris suggested that his early work possessed undisclosed, even allegorical, references to his childhood – to indelible memories of encounters with looming objects and hidden rooms. In this way, the work was said to engage space as affective or symbolic form.

Credits

Curator:
  • Jeffrey Weiss
    The exhibition is coordinated by Clément Minighetti, assisted by Sarah Beaumont

Exhibition design:
  • Polaris Architects

Robert Morris. The Perceiving Body is organised with the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Saint-Etienne Métropole.

This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.