robert amos: is minimalism really worth mocking? .robert amos: is minimalism really worth mocking?

Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking? .Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking?
Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking? .Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking?
Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking? .Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking?
Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking? .Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking?
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  • Robert Amos: Is Minimalism really worth mocking?Robert Amos / Times Colonist

    September 25, 2016 05:00 AM

    Untitled (Coke Zero) by John Boyle-Singfield Photograph By DARREN STONE, Times Colonist

    Anybody here remember Minimalism? There was the long project of Modernism: from Impressionism toExpressionism, through Abstract Expressionism to Colour Field and Hard Edge. And, when there was hardly atrace of the artist left, we were offered Minimalism.

    It is also known for being anti-humanist in its attempted removal of the artists hand, and in its apparentlyemotionless intellectualism, says John Hampton. And he ought to know he is the curator of the showtitled Why Cant Minimal? on now at Open Space Gallery (510 Fort St., 250-383-8833, until Oct. 22).

    I remember Minimalism. As a student I stood before Donald Judds set of seven galvanized iron boxes, boltedonto the wall at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was appropriately titled Untitled, and I found it perfectly boring.

    My art-history textbook explained: Judd vehemently insists that primary structures or minimal sculpture most specifically his own constitutes a direction essentially different from earlier constructivism. The difference, as he sees it, lies in his search for an absolute unityor wholeness through repetition of identical units in absolute symmetry. Yawn.

    Judd seems to be a pompous emperor of art, long overdue for a new set of clothes, and this exhibit sets out to take the measure of himand his cohorts. Sent on tour by the Art Museum of the University of Toronto, this show presents 13 exhibits that refer specifically tocreations by the masters of Minimalism: Daniel Buren, John McCracken, Carl Andre, Hans Haacke.

    I confess that those names arent really on the tip of my tongue. Anyway, none of those famous artists are in the show. Its actually agathering of young artists from Toronto riffing on the old guys, joking them up a bit.

    Like this: John Boyle-Singfield took as his inspiration Haackes proto-minimalist Condensation Cube. About 40 or 50 years ago, Haackesealed a small amount of water in a Plexiglas cube to make visible the circulatory systems that connect the interior with the exterior of theart object condensation formed on the inside of the box!

    And now, Boyle-Singfields recreation uses Coke Zero instead of water. (The catalogue helpfully defines Coke Zero as a hyper-contemporary and commodified version of nothingness.) So there you have it: a 12-inch-square cube containing approximately threelitres of Coke Zero, some of it condensing into droplets. Is it an homage? A remix? A joke?

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  • Heres another one. Tammi Campbell made an impressive copy of a shaped canvas by Frank Stella, and titled it Pre Post-Painterly (AfterStella). Its 46 feet 8 inches long and four feet high. Stellas original hard-edge acrylic was done with masking tape and paint rollers, newmaterials that made this type of painting possible.

    In writing about Stella and his big thing in the pamphlet, Hampton notes: Minimalism has had, and continues to have, a gender problem.He goes on to enumerate some traits of minimalism that are associated with masculinity: rigidity, rationalism, professionalism,seriousness.

    No wonder Campbell took such delight in constructing her own Stella, correct in every detail, but without the paint. Its just the maskingtape, put down and left in place. The emperors underclothes, you might say.

    All this sent me to my dictionary to look up something. Irony: a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of thatexpressed by the words used, usually taking the form of sarcasm or ridicule in which laudatory expressions are used to implycondemnation or contempt.

    The subtle tape-striped panel Campbell made looks like respect, but if you are in the know, its mockery. Is Minimalism worth mocking?Does anyone remember?

    Hamptons little handbook is helpful. It brings up Robert Garnetts definition of something he calls Abstract Humour: not necessarily alaughing matter, it is more like being put in a funny or preposterous situation, like that of a critic encountering a work of art that seems todisable ones prior criteria for the success or failure of a work of art. Perhaps this disabling of ones criteria is what people go to artgalleries for these days.

    The Toronto artists are not here just to ridicule. Some people love this Minimalist stuff. Hampton confesses that, like any reasonablebeing, I do enjoy spending hours in front of a Sol LeWitt sculpture. He explains that the artists in his show are using paradoxicalpropositions to articulate new and playful ways of activating minimal art. Since Minimalism was rigid at birth, and has been long deadfor all practical purposes, it certainly could use some activating.

    So how does one activate that boring minimalist Donald Judd? John Marriotts collage is only a sheet of computer paper with a fewimages printed on it, and off to the left he included a photo of the very Untitled piece I saw in Toronto years ago. In addition to Juddsstairway of boxes, there is a picture of a cubic sculpture by Sol LeWitt and a photograph of a chimpanzee taking part in a psychologicalexperiment. The chimp is climbing over a bunch of boxes to get at a banana. And its not just any banana hes after, but the banana on theVelvet Underground record cover by Andy Warhol.

    Get it?

    Copyright Times Colonist

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    tammiTypewritten Text

    tammiTypewritten Text

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  • Robert Amos: UVics library a treasure trove of modern workRobert Amos / Times Colonist

    October 2, 2016 05:00 AM

    Drawing by Wyndham Lewis from his magazine Blast 2 (1915). Photograph By Submitted

    A new book entitled Fronts of Modernity is the fourth volume published by and about the University ofVictorias libraries. It was created by assistant professor Matthew Huculak, who was assigned the task byuniversity librarian Jonathan Bengtsen in honour of the 50th anniversary of the universitys Special Collectionsand Archives.

    Who knew that UVic was so richly endowed with original source materials of literary modernism? When UVicand Simon Fraser University were founded in the 1960s, the three university libraries in the provincestrategized their collecting activities.

    Simon Fraser concentrated on the U.S.; the University of British Columbia chose to specialize in Canadian literature; and UVic focused itsattention on Britain. Librarian Roger Bishop was enthusiastic, literary lion Robin Skelton used his influence and a plucky young professorof English named Ann Saddlemyer took to the field. With good luck, good connections and a winning personality, Saddlemyer landed inthe centre of a field that at the time was not properly appreciated.

    Last spring, I reviewed an exhibit of the librarys holdings of W.B. Yeats and his family, amassed for the university in its early days bySaddlemyer. About that time, a filing cabinet full of papers from Britains poet laureate John Betjeman came to Victoria, and had to beproperly looked into.

    Reading this new book, I discovered that Victoria also has correspondence between Herbert Read and T.E. Lawrence of Arabia;important proof editions of the writings of Lawrence Durrell; and many original watercolours by Henry Miller.

    An extraordinary gathering ofmaterials by and relating to Wyndham Lewis, which was assembled by Cyril J. Fox over a lifetime, hasalready drawn scholars to Victoria. Letters and first editions by T.S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes and Virginia Woolf also have a home here, andthere is an unexpectedly large cache of rare editions and early publications of James Joyce awaiting the attention of scholars.

    This is Huculaks particular field of interest, and since coming here, he brought to light the original files and photographs for the picturebook James Joyce in Paris, by the mid-century literary photographer Gisle Freund, who was based in Paris from 1933 to 1967. Such arethe treasures waiting to be examined by UVic scholars.

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  • Fronts of Modernity was beautifully designed by Clint Hutzulak at Rayola Creative, and the look of the book alone makes it worthy of notein this art column. Hundreds of colour illustrations presented in an engaging layout give us a sense of the stationery, the postmarks andhandwriting in these gems of correspondence.

    For example, we are shown a letter from Ezra Pound typed in blue on his block-printed stationery from Rapallo, Italy. This page includes afirst draft of one of his poems which has been extensively amended by the author with a fountain pen. With the advent ofword-processing and email, these sorts of artifacts represent forms of communication from another age.

    Fronts of Modernity, ed. Matthew Huculak (University of Victoria Libraries, Victoria 2016, 144 pp.) is not for sale in shops, but can found atthe UVic Library, or can be accessed as a pdf file at no cost. Just go to (

    The Mayhew family has donated a tall bronze sculpture named Caryatid to the Royal B.C. Museum grounds. Created in 1971 by ElzaMayhew, one of the famed Limners group of artists, it joins another Mayhew sculpture named Spirit standing in the reflecting pool at thecentre of the native plant garden that fronts the Provincial Archives.

    Other major installations of Mayhews work can be seen on t