Curated by Joan Robledo-Palop, Minimal Means is a conversation about space and the way people occupy and imagine that space in three parts of the world. The exhibit focuses on a group of artists whose creative careers began to evolve in the mid 1950s and 1960s in the United States, Brazil, and Spain. The presentation showcases thirty works by seventeen artists who have never before been juxtaposed in an exhibition and explores seemingly simultaneous ideas and methodologies, which actually developed independently and organically.
With common roots in the art of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, and the experience of the Bauhaus, the artists in this exhibition expanded the legacy of Constructivism and geometric abstraction into a new era. This reassessment produced objects defined by geometry, clarity and apparent simplicity, reducing the formal aspects of the work of art to a minimal set of elements with endless possibilities. Informed by new theories about the experience of existence, from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s linguistics, these artists sought to transform the modes of sensory perception through radical formal investigation.
There are 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, yet they became historical points of exchange. For instance, the work of Josef Albers was very present in the Brazilian artistic milieu 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. In the late 1950s, Manuel Barbadillo arrived in New York. This sojourn marked a transition from the subjectivism of the gestural abstraction of Informalism, happening in Europe in parallel to Abstract Expressionism, to a rational modular system. Barbadillo’s rationalism informed the artistic philosophy of the 1960s for artists attending the seminars on art and computer science organized by the Centro de Cálculo of the Universidad de Madrid.
Aiming to reflect on the shared language of geometric and reductive abstractions, this exhibition is organized beyond nationalities or geographical borders. Instead, we present the artists’ work around common themes and formal solutions such as lines, squares, grids, structures, and modules, and cross-examine the different political and cultural contexts that gave rise to these unique formal investigations. Works of art reveal themselves as precious agents for human rapport and common ground for understanding between different countries, languages, and cultures. The selection of works presented in this exhibition are a firm testimony that concrete abstractions, perhaps one of the highest achievements of the art of the past century, do not have borders. As Joan Robledo-Palop explains, “these sensorial investigations about space connected humanity and transcended languages, countries and continents. The work of these artists also contributed to expanding the limits of the artistic object and the ways it relates to authorship and production, as well as spectatorship and perception.”
This is the first presentation that brings together North American artists such as Anni and Josef Albers, Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Mangold, with counterparts from Europe and Latin America: Jorge Oteiza, Manuel Barbadillo, Elena Asins, Jordi Teixidor, José María Yturralde, Mira Schendel, Willys de Castro, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, and Hélio Oiticica. The artists associated with reductive abstraction and Minimalism in North America are relatively well-known in New York. In recent years, some of the artists from Brazil have had prominent exhibitions and scholarly attention in the United States. In comparison, the artists from Spain, while possessing critical acclaim in their country, have had little exposure in the United States.
This exhibition also highlights a period in the history of art that was remarkable because of the role of women at the forefront of the art practice. While women have worked for decades alongside men, they have not always been visibly acknowledged. This exhibit reaffirms the work of Anni Albers and Agnes Martin in the United States, Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark, and Mira Schendel in Brazil, and Elena Asins in Spain. We celebrate their work, which in most cases was advanced against substantial personal and artistic difficulties. Their subtle abstractions enrich the plurality of this transnational dialogue in significant ways.