Heather Dimarco

CVCS Perception and Knowledge Robert Morris

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In this essay I intend to explore the concepts and ideology surrounding Minimalism and the work of Robert Morris, in particular Untitled 1965/71.

I have chosen to write about this work as I am currently exploring the use of objects and audience participation in my own practice. I am interested the use of a mirror not only as a material but an object in its own merit. Many properties and attributes of a mirror are of interest to me, how it can exist out with itself, how it creates a presence, the centre between reality and fantasy, positive and negative, conscious and unconscious. I am interested in how a mirror creates another environment out with physical space.

What is positive and negative space? How is it possible to create a non physical environment within a physical body?  

Minimalist artists are associated with being concerned with reducing there materials and means to a minimal. In Donald Judd’s view,

When you start relating parts, in the first place, you’re assuming you have a vague whole – the rectangle of the canvas – and definite parts, which is all screwed up, because you should have a definite whole and maybe no parts, or very few.

Quote Source:  Interview with Bruce Glaser, edited by Lucy R. Lippard and published as ‘Questions to Stella and Judd,’ Art News LXV, no.5 September 1966.

In its time minimal art was shocking and controversial as it challenged the previous notion of ownership and argued that artists need not always manufacture the work to call it their own. Minimalism artist questioned the role of the artists, the viewer and the experience of interacting and understanding an artwork.

Untitled 1965/71 (see Figure 1) is a reproduced artwork made in 1971 currently displayed in the Tate Modern Collection. The artwork consists of 4 mirrored cubes each 914 x 914 x 914mm which are situated on the gallery floor placed with direct relation to one another. The original cubes were made for Morris’ exhibition at the Green Gallery, New York 1965, (see figure 2) however he later destroyed this work as the boxes were made of Perspex and the mirrors would not stick on. The original installation of the mirrored cubes was intended to be outdoors.


The position and setting of the work I feel is crucial to the experience and participation felt when seeing the work. As Morris said,

Originally the space between the boxes was equal to the combined volume of the 4 boxes, but I haven’t followed that rule recently and generally place them more with regard to the space in the room- always maintaining enough room- some 5 or 6 feet at minimum- between them for walking.’

Quote Source: Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture’

              Artforum October 1966


Figure 1: Morris, R. (1965/71) Untitled [mirrored glass and wood 914 x 914 x 914mm]. Held at Tate Modern, London.

Figure 2: Morris, R. (1965) Untitled (Mirrored Cubes) [Perspex and mirror] Green Gallery, New York.  


In this work Morris starts with a set of geometric forms and simple materials to create a false environment that he half submerges into its surroundings and positions.  In the Tate Modern the Mirrored Cubes argue with the floors and walls, creating a non-physical environment that the viewer may perceive to be a true representation of the space. The facts suggest that the experience of the artwork is totally transformed if placed in a different environment, outside, however still interacting with its surroundings it also proposes a juxtaposition between the natural world and the sharp plainness of the geometry in the mirrored cubes.

Outdoors the cubes must be unsettling because the disagreement in the presence of vague uncertainty between figure and ground is made more apparent.


In his essay “Notes on Sculpture, Part 1,” Morris writes:


“In the simpler regular polyhedrons, such as cubes and pyramids, one need not move around the object for the sense of the whole, the gestalt, to occur. One sees and immediately ‘believes’ that the pattern within one’s mind corresponds to the existential fact of the object. Belief in this sense is a kind of faith in spatial extension.”


Quote Source: Morris, R. ‘Notes of Sculpture’

              Artforum February 1967


It could be suggested that the viewer is the most fundamental part to this work. As the work continually transforms and adapts to its environment, as the viewer walks around the objects, the reflection of the viewer undeniably interacts and changes the sculpture. The work makes you question the environment and surroundings you are in. It also makes you question what you see and believe to be true. In Wittgenstein’s Meaning and Understanding he notes ‘The meaning is the use.’


Quote source: Kenny A, The Wittgenstein Reader p.57


Art work does not need to be visually complex to provide a complex experience. As with Morris’ Untitled 1965/71 (Mirrored Cubes)[see figure 1] and Untitled 1965 sculpture (3 L beams) [see figure 3] where he represents three identical L shaped structures with different relation to each and the floor. He then challenges the viewer to see them as the same. Further analysis of the evidence shows that they can only be understood as ‘different’. This art work and many of Morris’ demands that the viewer question the ‘truth’ and ‘belief’ that there are indeed identical but also about our understanding and perception that sculptures are not.







































Figure 3: Morris R (1965-1969) Untitled (Three L beams)


‘A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be. Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.’ He continues ‘It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare to, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting.’ 


Quote source: Judd, D. (1928-1994) ‘Specific Objects’  


              Complete Writings 1959-1975        


After reading Michael Fried’s essay on ‘Art and Objecthood’ relating to Morris and Judd’s work I find myself questioning both arguments being made however at present felt like that work of Morris does make the viewer question their perception and knowledge, recognition and understanding, belief and acceptance and therefore find it to be very significant and important artworks which I extremely enjoy.









List of Illustrations


Figure 1: Morris, R. (1965/71) Untitled [online image]    

Available from                                 http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=10317&searchid=9164&roomid=3669&tabview=work


Figure 2: Morris R (1965) Untitled (Mirrored Cubes)

     Available from

          Robert Morris, Centre Georges Pompidou, p107


Figure 3: Morris R (1965-1969) Untitled (Three L beams)

                        Available from

          Robert Morris, Centre Georges Pompidou, p105









Written by heatherdimarco

November 23, 2008 at 7:43 pm

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