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Robert Morris (artist)

Robert Morris
Born (1931-02-09) February 9, 1931
Kansas City, Missouri
Education University of Kansas, Kansas City Art Institute, Reed College, Hunter College
Known for Sculpture
Movement Minimalism
The "infamous" 1974 self-constructed body art poster of Robert Morris.

Robert Morris (born February 9, 1931 in Kansas City, Missouri) is an American sculptor, conceptual artist and writer. He is regarded as one of the most prominent theorists of Minimalism along with Donald Judd but he has also made important contributions to the development of performance art, minimalism, land art, the Process Art movement and installation art. Morris currently lives and works in New York.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Work 2
  • Artist books 3
  • Critical reception 4
  • Exhibitions 5
  • Art market 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

Between 1948 and 1950, Morris studied engineering at the University of Kansas.[1] He then studied art at both the University of Kansas and at Kansas City Art Institute as well as philosophy at Reed College [2]. He interrupted his studies in 1951-52 to serve with the United States Army Corps of Engineers[2] in Arizona and Korea.[1] After moving to New York City in 1959 to study sculpture, he received a master's degree in art history in 1963 from Hunter College.[1]


Initially a painter, Morris’ work of the 1950s was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and particularly Jackson Pollock. While living in California, Morris also came into contact with the work of La Monte Young and John Cage. The idea that art making was a record of a performance by the artist (drawn from Hans Namuth’s photos of Pollock at work) in the studio led to an interest in dance and choreography. During the 1950s, Morris' furthered his interest in dance while living in San Francisco with his wife, the dancer and choreographer Simone Forti.[3] Morris moved to New York in 1960. In 1962 where he staged the performance Column at the Living Theater in New York[4] based on the exploration of bodies in space in which an upright square column after a few minutes on stage falls over.

Bronze Gate (2005) is a cor-ten steel work by Robert Morris. It is set in the garden of the dialysis pavilion in the hospital of Pistoia, Italy.

In New York, Morris began to explore the work of Marcel Duchamp, making conceptual pieces such as [5] In 1964 Morris devised and performed two celebrated performance artworks 21.3 in which he lip syncs to a reading of an essay by Erwin Panofsky and Site with Carolee Schneemann. Morris enrolled at Hunter College in New York (his masters thesis was on the work of Brâncuși) and in 1966 published a series of influential essays "Notes on Sculpture" in Artforum. He exhibited two L Beams in the seminal 1966 exhibit, "Primary Structures" at the Jewish Museum in New York.

In 1967 Morris created Steam, an early piece of Land Art. By the late 1960s Morris was being featured in museum shows in America but his work and writings drew criticism from [5] In 1971 Morris designed an exhibition for the Tate Gallery that took up the whole central sculpture gallery with ramps and cubes. He published a photo of himself dressed in S&M gear in an advertisement in Artforum, similar to one by Lynda Benglis, with whom Morris had collaborated on several videos.[6]

He created the Robert Morris Observatory in the Netherlands, a "modern Stonehenge", which identifies the solstices and the equinoxes. It is at coordinates 52°32'58"N 5°33'57"E.[7]

During the later 1970s Morris switched to figurative work, a move that surprised many of his supporters. Themes of the work were often fear of nuclear war. During the 1990s returned to his early work supervising reconstructions and installations of lost pieces.

Artist books

  • Hurting Horses, 64 pages, 23,5 x 16,5 cm. Limited edition of 1500 copies. Produced and published in 2005 by mfc-michèle didier.

Critical reception

In 1974, Robert Morris advertised his display at the Castelli Gallery with a poster showing him bare-chested in sadomasochistic garb. Critic Amelia Jones argued that the body poster was a statement about hyper-masculinity and the stereotypical idea that masculinity equated to homophobia.[8] Through the poster, Morris equated the power of art with that of a physical force, specifically violence.[9]

Robert Morris's art is fundamentally theatrical. (…) his theater is one of negation: negation of the avant-gardist concept of originality, negation of logic and reason, negation of the desire to assign uniform cultural meanings to diverse phenomena; negation of a worldview that distrusts the unfamiliar and the unconventional. (Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s, p. 3.)

In Morris' book, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, the artist includes a collaborative project with the art critic G. Roger Denson in which he lampoons the criticism of his work published over the course of his career up to the early 1990s. The chapter, entitled "Robert Morris Replies to Roger Denson (Or Is That a Mouse in My Paragon?)", lists thirteen questions submitted by Denson, with each question representing the criticism of Morris' work written by a different unnamed critic responding to a specific exhibition, installation, or art work. Instead of answering the questions, Morris has written an elaborate, comically absurd, satirical narrative that in many ways epitomizes the "only possible response" to criticism that had become fashionable in the so-called "demise of criticism" that some writers of the 1980s and 1990s heralded following the "deconstruction of logocentrism" postulated by the post-structuralist theorist Jacques Derrida. As one commentator, Brian Winkenweder, wrote:

"In his reply [to Denson's questions], Morris compartmentalized diverse aspects of his oeuvre into nine, cleverly-named alter-egos such as Body Bob, Major Minimax, Lil Dahlink Felt, Mirror Stagette, Dirt Macher and Blind. He also appropriated the brick-hurling Ignatz Mouse from George Herriman's comic strip Krazy Kat as rhetorical flourish to enhance his written answers to Denson's questions."

Winkenweder then cites the mockery to which Morris' critics are subjected in his absurdist satire, as bricks are hurled at each of Denson's questions.

"Hey, what's going on, Ignatz? Everybody is rolling on the floor and laughing. I've never seen such a hysterical gang of assassins. What, you read that ticket about our 'new tone of ironic self-reference?' And what? Body Bob threw the I-Box at the Major who then bent Stagette out of shape with the Corner Piece and Blind smeared cup grease on Dirt Macher's … wait a minute, Ignatz. You started this bedlam by throwing bricks at everyone, I bet....Get Body Bob out of that Kraut helmet immediately…No, I did not give it to Lil Dahlink Felt with the Card File. How could you think such a thing, Ignatz? You are so surly today. Why don't I punch my own ticket?" (Morris, 1993, 307).[10]


Morris' first exhibition of paintings was held in 1958 at the Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco.[1] Numerous museums have hosted solo exhibitions of his work, including the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.[3]

Art market

Morris is represented by Leo Castelli Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, and Sprüth Magers, Berlin/London. As a conceptual artist, Morris at times contractually removed from circulation. When a collector, the architect Philip Johnson, did not pay Morris for a work he had ostensibly purchased, the artist drew up a certificate of deauthorization that officially withdrew all aesthetic content from his piece, making it nonexistent as art.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e Josine Ianco-Starrels (April 27, 1986), Robert Morris Works Focus On Environment Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ Robert Morris Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  3. ^ a b Robert Morris Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  4. ^ Cindy Hinant, A Subversive Practitioner (2014). Meyer-Stoll, Christiane, ed. Gary Kuehn: Between Sex and Geometry. Cologne: Snoeck Verlagsgesellschaft. pp. 32–33, 36.  
  5. ^ a b , 1964Untitled (Corner Piece)Robert Morris, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  6. ^ Taylor, Brandon (2005). Contemporary Art: Art Since 1970. London:  
  7. ^ This from
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Chave, Anne C. (1991). "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power". In Holliday T. Day. Power: Its Myths and Mores in American Art, 1961-1991. p. 134. 
  10. ^ Brian Winkenweder, "The Homometrics of eInterviews." In Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (9.1, 2009):
  11. ^ Holland Cotter (November 1, 2012), Works That Play With Time New York Times.


  • Berger, Maurice. Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s, New York: Harper & Row, 1989
  • Busch, Julia M., A Decade of Sculpture: the New Media in the 1960s (The Art Alliance Press: Philadelphia; Associated University Presses: London, 1974) ISBN 0-87982-007-1

Further reading

  • Nancy Marmer, "Death in Black and White: Robert Morris," Art in America, March 1983, pp. 129–133.

External links

  • Robert Morris at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Guggenheim Robert Morris bio
  • Robert Morris, Publicportfolio at
  • Robert Morris in the Video Data Bank
  • Land Reclamation und Erdmonumente article in German by Thomas Dreher
  • Observatory near Lelystad/Oost Flevoland in Netherlands, illustrations
  • Allan Kaprow versus Robert Morris. Ansätze zu einer Kunstgeschichte als Mediengeschichte article in German by Thomas Dreher on the competing theories on art by Allan Kaprow and Robert Morris
  • Robert Morris at Sprüth Magers Berlin London
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