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Investigations: The Expanded Field of Writing in the Works of Robert Morris

 | 
Katia Schneller
, 
Noura Wedell

I. Embedded Writing

“Like Laughter in a Ruin:” from Telegram to the Eighties

Denis Briand

Texte intégral

  • 1 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 347.

In any case there is now much in text and imagery that is a far cry from noble theory and elevated abstraction. It is a different appearance, not always easy to place or account for, like laughter heard in a ruin.1

  • 2 Barbara Rose, “ABC Art,” Art in America, vol. 53, no. 5 (October-November 1965), reprinted in Greg (...)
  • 3 Ibid., pp. 281-282. Mel Bochner presents a similar idea during an interview on Jean-Luc Godard’s V (...)
  • 4 Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1992), (...)
  • 5 As Catherine Francblin writes in a commentary on a 1983 Robert Morris exhibition at the Galerie Te (...)
  • 6 A “specific object” therefore needed to be equivalent to itself, as “the visual dream of the same (...)
  • 7 Robert Morris, “Notes on sculpture,” 1966, pp. 42-44, reprinted in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal (...)

1The contemporary interpretation of minimalism seems regularly to return to what Barbara Rose wrote in 1965 concerning the content of the new artistic sensibility in the United States, which she defined as a production of works that “look altogether devoid of art content.” She added, with respect to their authors, that they undeniably “attempt to suppress or withdraw content from their works,” and that quite clearly, “they wish to make art that is as bland, neutral, and as redundant as possible.”2 This first analysis seemed to give minimal art the status of an art in which nothing happened!3 This “new art” appeared to be “without symptoms or period of dormancy,”4 akin to a kind of “white writing.”5 As a description of the minimal object, the expression has become widespread: in the object, there was nothing else to see but its pure three-dimensional nature showcasing the phenomenon of its very presence.6 Each work constituted an indivisible and indissoluble totality. The sculptures of Robert Morris seemed the perfect “theoretical” example of this at first, Morris having written in 1966: “Their parts are bound together in such a way that they offer a maximum resistance to perceptual separation.”7

  • 8 Alain Robbe-Grillet, Le miroir qui revient (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1984), p. 11, trans. Jo Lev (...)
  • 9 See Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pour un Nouveau Roman (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1963), trans. Richard H (...)
  • 10 “Ideology, always masked, changes its face with ease. It’s a hydra-headed mirror: whenever one hea (...)

2“I myself have done much to promote these reassuring idiocies.”8 This cutting remark is taken from Alain’s Ghosts in the Mirror (Le miroir qui revient). Describing his literary development, the declaration is a comment upon the writer’s fairly intransigent theoretical period.9 It indicates the degree to which Robbe-Grillet’s recourse to autobiography broke with the positions that his adventure with the nouveau roman seemed to have forever committed him to.10 The orientation Morris’ work takes at the end of the seventies what might very well be viewed in light of what Robbe-Grillet writes on the “normalization” of the nouveau roman:

  • 11 Ibid., p. 16. “Now that the nouveau roman defines its values positively, decrees its law, brings i (...)

There’s a pressing need to call everything into question and put the pieces back as they were: we need to take writing back to its starting point, the author back to his first book: in the modern narrative we must once more question the ambiguous part played by the representation of the world and the expression of a person who is simultaneously a physical body, a conscious projection and an unconscious.11

  • 12 Barbara Rose, “The Odyssey of Robert Morris,” in Robert Morris, Inability to Endure or Deny the Wo (...)
  • 13 Robert Morris in Rosalind Krauss, “Robert Morris: Around the Mind/Body Problem,” Art Press, no. 19 (...)
  • 14 During his first solo show at the Green Gallery in New York in 1963, Morris also exhibited the ser (...)
  • 15 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 345.
  • 16 Rosalind Krauss, “The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in Series,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body (...)
  • 17 We could interrogate the nature and existence of minimalism in the same way Michael Asher reflects (...)
  • 18 “Consequently, Untitled (L-Beams), while an early work, still suggests that Morris’ angst and preo (...)
  • 19 “Morris’ minimalist objects are the simple material forms of death, preparing for the process work (...)
  • 20 Robert Morris, on his exhibition at the Sprueth Magers Gallery in London, June-September 2008, “In (...)

3According to this point of view, the distance is great between Rose’s remarks cited above, and those she would formulate in 1991: “Morris the deadpan literalist has become Morris the epic poet.”12 Isn’t Morris’ work emblematic of the expression of a person who is at once body, intention and unconscious? Isn’t “all sculpture, no matter how abstract, […] given over to creating an analogue of the human body?”13 Very early on, Morris’ work cast doubt upon the perfect logic and mathematic efficiency that seemed to define the “new art.”14 Indeed, during the course of the 1960s, such irrational homages to “logocentrism”15 were generally viewed, according to Rosalind Krauss, as a way “to direct the critical reception of this work down the misleading path of an aesthetic of ideal forms.”16 Any attentive exploration of Morris’ practices of the 1960s, already diverse and multiple, would show the difficulty of classifying his work.17 From the beginning, his artistic activity was always double-edged, requiring incessant re-readings. The stylistic ruptures in his work, beginning at the end of the 1970s, invite us to cast doubt upon every explanatory paradigm, and compel us to endlessly rethink our artistic categorizations. Nena Tsouti-Schillinger considers, for example, that the L-Beams are objects of a geometric nature that should be associated with Melancholy,18 indicating that Morris’ preoccupation with his own demons, quite apparent in his most recent work, is potentially present as early as the 1960s.19 The artist’s oeuvre thus never stays long in the place one assigns for it. A recent interview clarifies this point. When Simon Grant asked what definition would best suit his practice, among the multiplicity that have been attributed, from minimalism to expressionism, Morris answered: “Nothing. Zero. What a list…”20

Laughter in a Ruin

  • 21 See the section entitled “Commentary” in Robert Morris, “American Quartet,” Art in America, vol. 6 (...)
  • 22 This text was read aloud during the performance Arizona, June 23, 1963, Judson Memorial Church, Ne (...)
  • 23 See Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, from R Morris KC MO nineteen forties to R Morris (...)

4We cannot always take Robert Morris’ writings at their word. He makes this impossible. One significant example is the unsigned critical commentary that follows the text “American Quartet” (1981).21 Another is the older text, “A Method for Sorting Cows.”22 At the time it was written, the piece suggested a methodical description of the unfolding of a performance, its style manifesting the distance, the precision and the impersonal tone befitting performance at the time. Retroactively, however, an additional layer surfaced as later writing foregrounded how childhood memories were entangled in the fabric of the text.23 The “virile” activity of sorting cows was evoked, this time with a more sensitive tone, without eluding its emotional dimension. Each evocation of the pen being an homage to the artist’s father, we could retrospectively reexamine “A Method for Sorting Cows” in view of the recurrence of memories and their endless recomposition.

  • 24 For a close reading of the book Telegram, please see the text of Isabelle Alfandary, “Addressing O (...)
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit., 63 pages: 55 pages of text and 8 pages of d (...)

5However, within Morris’ written work, the text of the book Telegram24 is of a particular nature, its density and diversity comparable to those of his “visual” production. His first truly autonomous book, it is the only publication that he has entirely conceived and controlled. This long text, written in capital letters with no punctuation or pagination, and adopting the telegraphic form announced by its title,25 is far from the laconic style of telegrams. Written in a resolutely literary form and according to that perspective, the text presents itself as a seventy-two-page telegram which Morris sends, from his childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, during the 1940s, to his adult self.26

  • 27 Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Galle (...)
  • 28 Songs arranged by Robert Candel and mixed by Robert Morris.

6Morris produced this book on the ocassion of a solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1998.27 This exhibition included an installation whose title, The Rationed Years, is also the subtitle of the book Telegram. The installation, in close relation to the text, was composed of several elements. First: five school desks and four radios, replicas of the model 60 B produced after 1935 and manufactured by Philco. Each of these radios was placed on a pile of painted wooden signs. The installation also included two paintings composed of many square panels of painted wood, placed on superimposed shelves affixed to the gallery walls (Fig. 13). The radios played a series of twelve songs from the 1940s.28 At regular intervals, the sound of the music mixed with a percussive sound resembling the falling of bombs, the crackling of fire, and drone of an airplane. On each school desk lay a closed copy of the book Telegram. The installation, the text, and the drawings that appeared in the book referred explicitly to Morris’ memory of World War Two.

13. Installation view of Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.

13. Installation view of Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • 29 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit., n. p.
  • 30 Robert Morris, “Interview with Simon Grant,” op. cit.

7For Morris, language always expresses doubt. And Telegram allows him to find doubt within a personal history related as a trauma from which the author has “never healed.” The text tells of memories of a childhood confronted by a “cascade of war’s fresh and naked images […] visual lesions settling in the brain that would not heal in a lifetime.”29 As if bounced back through a mirror, a retrospective gaze is brought upon the years of carefree insouciance and play, “sapped” by the rationing of the war and by the slow emergence from a childhood subjected to the radical violence of the world. In a manner analogous to the development of his “visual” work, Morris finds himself, here again, running counter to modernism. He rejects neither his personal past nor History, but rather inserts his oeuvre and his person in a chronology that, retrospectively, wholly determines them. Did Robert Morris not declare recently: “Early childhood experiences have always been central to my art making.”30?

  • 31 These traces of a traumatic event are inscribed in the deepest recesses of memory and, at the time (...)
  • 32 Nathalie Sarraute, preface to the English translation of Tropismes (Paris: Denoël, 1939), trans. M (...)

8Indeed, the narrator of Telegram seems fated to return ceaselessly to the same place, like a survivor returning, in spite of himself, to the scene of the accident.31 In this way, the logic of the work imposes itself as though it had been produced “under the impact of an emotion,”32 an emotion that returns, interminably, expressing itself differently at every turn, as an after-effect that is always “in process.” If several aspects of Morris’ work had indeed provided clues, the text of Telegram integrates these aspects into a totality whose meaning relies upon the biographical.

  • 33 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit., n. p.

9The imprecision of memory and hesitant recollection are the central motifs of Telegram: The Rationed Years. The text participates in the reconstruction of memory, albeit partial and fatally gnawed by oblivion. In memory, everything is on the same plane; images, sounds, emotion. The blend of these sensations and memories cannot be untangled. How should one reckon with this chaos? The long continuous text of Telegram opts for a syntactical blurring, wherein the absence of punctuation makes it difficult to distinguish the caesuras that separate historical facts, primary emotions, and fiction. How can they be recomposed? This is the nodal question of Morris’ text. One passage in particular emphasizes this project: “there were facts millions of them,” the narrator tells us, “facts—millions of them so what?—Add them up all the millions—but the sum misses the sense of war that hung over Kansas City in the spring of forty-three.”33

  • 34 Robert Morris, “Indiana Street, 1993,” in Robert Morris, Have I Reasons, Work and Writings, 1993-2 (...)

10The text of Telegram traps us, perhaps, with its fiction. Or is it the artist himself who reconstructs a romanticized autobiography in order to orient the work, to englobe its heterogeneity under a single principle, thus unifying and ordering the fragmented totality and the set of disparate practices? Our doubts might be warranted if not for the other texts that are equally concerned with the question of memory. In the most recent published collection of his writings, Have I Reasons, we discover an unpublished text from 1993, “Indiana Street,” entirely devoted to the artist’s childhood memories.34 This text narrates a series of digressions and anecdotes about people who gravitated around Indiana Street in Kansas City, Missouri, where Morris and his family lived during the middle of the 1930s. Certain events which are present in Telegram were previously described in “Indiana Street” (Mr. Uzell’s tragic accident, for example). Likewise, this text, discovered after Telegram, although it probably predates it, seems to bring additional pieces to the puzzle of Morris’ work. (That is, unless it is just a new facet of the kaleidoscope which endlessly deflects efforts at elucidation.) The pertinence of this hypothesis relates to the doubt in which the artist sometimes holds his own theoretical assertions: the text of Telegram might thus constitute a key to the whole of the artist’s oeuvre, providing a common horizon to Morris’ successive artistic commitments.

  • 35 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit.

11At one point in the text, Morris tells an anecdote about a column that he constructed with a childhood friend in the school shop class storage room. This “endless column,” as they named it, was made out of a pile of drawing boards, glued to one another by coats of thickening shellac applied with a paintbrush, and rose to a height of two and a half meters. The author explains that, half a century later, he still discusses with his friend “the aesthetic merits of this long lost column—its mass its feathery serrated profile its classic composition its slight variation from symmetry its overdetermined phallic iconography its superiority to a compulsive Brancusi its economy and simplicity its compact minimalism.”35

  • 36 “In this basement zone from which the reign of the totalizing visual had been banished I turned po (...)
  • 37 Ibid., n. p.

12The Rationed Years installation might seem to evoke this column in the four bases upon which the radios are set. However, used to Morris’ literary strategies by now, we could well ask ourselves whether the installation provides an illustration of the column, or whether the text constructs its fictive anteriority. This anecdote is interesting in that it constitutes the most salient of a set of evocations of artistic practice, at times discreet, which seem to base their every aspect and development in the memories of this troubled and “exciting” period of childhood. In addition to the “minimalist” stacking of the drawing boards, another passage in Telegram indicates how, playing in the basement of the family house, “in this basement zone from which the reign of the totalizing visual had been banished,” Morris experiences absence and “its blind aggressivity.”36 Another very precise reference to a recurrent motif in his oeuvre, the labyrinth, is evoked in the form of a children’s game: “we build a six-foot tall labyrinth of old Kansas City Star bundles on the bricks of the school yard—hysterical exhausted half-frozen with palms black from the newsprint.”37 Tracing this perspective might provide a way to decode the text. In this regard, it enacts the same entanglement that we find in all of his “visual” work.

13Let us return a moment to the episode of the superimposed drawing boards, paying special attention to certain physical components of the installation The Rationed Years. The drawing board seems to constitute a unity, that of a wood panel whose format has been normalized by a century of drawing faced with the exigencies of industrial constraint. The shop class, a certain wavering of school activities, the identical format of the panels, perhaps these circumstances encouraged the two children in the anecdote toward construction? But the description that the author gives of it is less innocent than it seems. The aesthetic merits that he and his friend continue to accord to it in retrospect are, in fact, characteristics that in large part mock “its compact minimalism,” “its feathery serrated profile,” “fragmentary composition,” asymmetry, “phallic character,” “superiority to a compulsive Brancusi.”

14From the visual point of view, might the drawing board in the anecdote not also represent a kind of “matrix” of the square panel that Morris often uses? In fact, several pictorial works make use of this process. Two paintings, both completed on several square wooden panels and leaning on shelves, are part of the exhibition The Rationed Years and Other New Work They appropriate two images from the war years and specifically invoke the climate that reigned in American society at the time. These paintings depict two well-known posters from the American war effort during the 1940s: “He’s Watching You” (Fig. 14) and “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The two images might be taken as emblematic of Morris’ work, and also help us understand how a generation of artists sought artistic forms that might allow them to subtract themselves from “the reign of the totalizing visual.” These two images mark the limits of a reality inscribed between the domination of an enemy gaze, dissimulated but omnipresent, and the over-valuing of the culpability of speech. There is an unstable position, caught between “He is watching you” and “Talking too much costs lives.” But the way the panels are hung on rows of superimposed shelves reinforces a fragmentation of the image, suggesting other possible layouts while materially manifesting lacunae and blank spaces, like so many disjointed fragments, redirecting, in the image, the narrative discontinuity of the memory fragments evoked by the Telegram text.

14. Installation view of Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.

14. Installation view of Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“My doubts form a system.”38

  • 38 Robert Morris in Teri Wehn Damisch, Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem (Paris: la SEPT Vidéo, 19 (...)
  • 39 Didier Ottinger, “Apocalypse now?,” in Robert Morris, ex. cat., 1995, p. 338.
  • 40 Ibid., p. 333.
  • 41 According to Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, Morris’ works differ from the principal works of neo-express (...)
  • 42 See Éric de Chassey, “Morris le manipulateur d’art,” Beaux Arts Magazine (September 1995), p. 56. (...)
  • 43 Donald Kuspit, “The Ars Moriendi According to Robert Morris,” in Robert Morris, Works of the Eight (...)
  • 44 Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, Robert Morris and Angst, op. cit., p. 95.
  • 45 Robert Morris in Rosalind Krauss, “Robert Morris. Around the Mind/Body Problem,” op. cit., p. 30.

15Reading Telegram thus opens a new approach to Morris’ work as a whole, like a cartography of all of its territories, revealing the networks of ramifications and allowing us to discover the discrete lines leading from one to the next. The same aesthetic of the fragment was already at work, in a more spectacular and dramatic, even ostentatious way, in the large compositions with molded frames made at the beginning of the 1980s (Fig. 15). The alarm and the near-muteness one feels when standing before these works are not unlike what one feels in the face of catastrophe. Morris is obviously neither the first nor the only artist to confront death and destruction head-on, but he does so, during this period, with such intensity that the work becomes almost unbearable. “Their strangeness and brutal authority serve to bring to a peremptory conclusion the chapter of modern art.”39 Must we see a definitive exile from modernism here, as the critic Didier Ottinger suggests,40 or could these works be characterized as neo-expressionism, as has been occasionally proposed by several critical views at the time of their production?41 Are they at times too complacent?42 Clearly, this “dark face of the work” incites much less affirmation than questioning. If one is divided between skepticism and admiration in the face of such works it is doubtless because of their monumental, magisterial character, and the fact that they are thus almost too big for us! The works produced during this period have sometimes been taken for a celebration of morbidity. And yet, all of Morris’ practices at the time share the same insistent, obsessive, motif—Continuities, five engravings from 1988, the series of drawings Firestorm and Psychomachia (1982) are developed parallel to the monumental works, which Donald Kuspit calls “the extinction works.”43 Nena Tsouti-Schillinger describes Morris’ “lifelong thanatopsy (contemplation of death)”44 as the heart of his artmaking, and the artist himself declared, in 1994, in an interview with Rosalind Krauss: “I do not think my art evolved into any humanist affirmations.”45 Or again, as he writes in 1980 in October:

  • 46 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, pp. 87-102, reprinted in Continuous P (...)

Art erodes whatever seeks to contain and use it and inevitably seeps into the most contrary recesses, touches the most repressed nerve, finds and sustains the contradictory without effort. Art has always been a very destructive force, the best example being its capacity constantly to self-destruct.46

15. Robert Morris, Untitled, Sans Titre, 1983. Painted hydrocal and pastel on paper, 84 × 100 inches (213.4 × 254 cm).

15. Robert Morris, Untitled, Sans Titre, 1983. Painted hydrocal and pastel on paper, 84 × 100 inches (213.4 × 254 cm).

Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

16Following the same orientation as the text of Telegram: The Rationed Years, the large frames of the 1980s already work with memory, and direct interpretation toward the “archeological.” The tormented, bulky bas-reliefs that compose these frames are a mass of body fragments, bones, objects, traces and even sections of prior works. The frames look as if a mold had been made of the earth on which were strewn the residues of an unspeakable chaos, as if these frightening reliefs had been seized in the precise instant that had fixed them thus under the force of some Leviathan. Such traces are not traces of an individual memory, but those of a memory “of the century,” even though, little by little, it becomes clear how the former constitutes the other—inseparable—face of the latter. The aesthetics of ruins which these works put forth unfailingly evokes Freud’s two principal metaphors of archeology. Without explaining them in detail here, let us recall that the two cities of Rome and Pompeii are, according to Freud, the archeological sites exemplary of the two modalities of access to memory conserved within the psyche. Rome provides the metaphor for the fragmentary memory of several different, non-contemporary moments, whose lacunae will forever remain inaccessible. Pompeii is that of the fixed memory of a single complete moment, yet one that is definitively cut off from its history. This whole period of creation, for Morris, could be summed up by a statement the artist makes at the end of that dark decade:

  • 47 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 347.

A few words suffice: World War I, the gulags, Stalin, the Bomb, nuclear stockpiles, and most of all, of course, the Holocaust. Such have been the productions of a century that would claim to have clung to the Enlightenment’s guiding lights of reason and truth, and where the sturdy divisions of the epistemological, the ethical, and the aesthetic separate and direct our inquiries.47

  • 48 “Something to do with the shame of our barbaric and genocidal American foreign policy.” Robert Mor (...)
  • 49 Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ghosts in the mirror, op. cit., p. 17.

17But once again, nothing is quite that evident. It is plain in his works from the 1980s that Morris was initiating a dialogue with the history of art of much greater amplitude and trenchancy than he had ever done before. Such a dialogue is established with his own artistic history as well. A few critical takes on the cast-frame works have considered them a kind of parenthesis within the artist’s oeuvre. Indeed, later works will seem more “pacified.” But during an exhibition at the Sprueth Magers gallery in London, Summer 2008, Morris again showed pieces that consisted of molded bas-reliefs similar to those from the 1980s (Fig. 16). Certain parts of earlier works are in fact taken up again and recomposed with other more recent elements. These most recent pieces seem to recapitulate a large part of Morris’ artistic vocabulary (Fig. 17). In an interview with Simon Grant he answered: “I just could not not make these four works. […] I felt I had no choice.”48 Robert Morris will doubtlessly still have reason to confront history. The following quotation by the nouveau-roman writer Alain Robbe-Grillet might perhaps suit him equally: “I’m a sort of resolute, ill-equipped, imprudent explorer who doesn’t believe in the previous existence or stability of the country in which he is mapping out a possible road, day by day.”49

16. Robert Morris, Normal Terror, 1987-2008. Wood, encaustic, fiberglass, lead, 84 × 48 inches (213.36 × 121.92 cm).

16. Robert Morris, Normal Terror, 1987-2008. Wood, encaustic, fiberglass, lead, 84 × 48 inches (213.36 × 121.92 cm).

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Gallery, Berlin and London. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

17. Robert Morris, Morning Terror, 1987-2000-2008. Wood, encaustic, fiberglass, lead, 84 × 48 inches (213.36 × 121.92 cm).

17. Robert Morris, Morning Terror, 1987-2000-2008. Wood, encaustic, fiberglass, lead, 84 × 48 inches (213.36 × 121.92 cm).

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Gallery, Berlin and London. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Notes

1 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 347.

2 Barbara Rose, “ABC Art,” Art in America, vol. 53, no. 5 (October-November 1965), reprinted in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968, reprinted by Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1995), p. 281.

3 Ibid., pp. 281-282. Mel Bochner presents a similar idea during an interview on Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie: “Here is a film that is so close to Flaubert, something where nothing happens.” Mel Bochner in Anne-Françoise Penders, “Rencontre avec Mel Bochner, New York, March 2000,” Pratiques, “Réflexions sur l’art,” no. 9 (Fall 2000), p. 74. The translation is ours.

4 Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1992), p. 28. The translation is ours.

5 As Catherine Francblin writes in a commentary on a 1983 Robert Morris exhibition at the Galerie Templon: “His wood or felt sculptures reflected exclusively formal preoccupations, creating an austere and extremely didactic art.” Catherine Francblin, “Robert Morris,” Le Quotidien de Paris (May 19, 1983). The translation is ours. In Writing Degree Zero, Barthes uses the term “white writing” to refer to the minimalism emblematic of certain post-World War Two writers. See Roland Barthes, Le degré zéro de l’écriture (Paris: Seuil, 1953), trans. Richard Howard, Writing Degree Zero (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999).

6 A “specific object” therefore needed to be equivalent to itself, as “the visual dream of the same thing.” Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, op. cit., p. 33. The translation is ours.

7 Robert Morris, “Notes on sculpture,” 1966, pp. 42-44, reprinted in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, op. cit., p. 226.

8 Alain Robbe-Grillet, Le miroir qui revient (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1984), p. 11, trans. Jo Levy, Ghosts in the mirror (London: John Calder, 1997), p. 15.

9 See Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pour un Nouveau Roman (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1963), trans. Richard Howard, For a New Novel (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989).

10 “Ideology, always masked, changes its face with ease. It’s a hydra-headed mirror: whenever one head is cut off it soon springs up again, presenting the adversary with his true face in the mirror, which he believed he had defeated.” Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ghosts in the mirror, op. cit., p. 15.

11 Ibid., p. 16. “Now that the nouveau roman defines its values positively, decrees its law, brings its recalcitrant pupils back to the fold, enlists its guerillas, excommunicates its free thinkers, …” (Ibid.) “It’s strange though that so many readers, not all of whom were lacking in sensitivity and intelligence, were so easily taken in.” (Ibid., p. 33)

12 Barbara Rose, “The Odyssey of Robert Morris,” in Robert Morris, Inability to Endure or Deny the World: Representation and Text in the Work of Robert Morris, ex. cat., 1991, p. 10.

13 Robert Morris in Rosalind Krauss, “Robert Morris: Around the Mind/Body Problem,” Art Press, no. 193 (July-August 1994), p. 25. “Since I would argue that all sculpture, no matter how abstract, is constantly working to build an analogue of the human form—to demonstrate the body’s relation to gravity, or its capacity for expressive gesture, or its potential for doubling back on itself in an act of self-description, or even its movements in the most ordinary types of labor. […] All sculpture, then, no matter how abstract, is constantly working to create an analogue of the human body—to demonstrate its relation to gravity, its capacity for expressive gesture, or even its movements in the most ordinary types of labor.” Rosalind Krauss, in Robert Morris, The Mind/Body Problem, film by Teri Wehn Damisch and Rosalind Krauss, 1995, produced by Centre Georges Pompidou, with the participation of Délégation aux arts plastiques, Ministère de la culture et de la francophonie, 1995, RMN, La Sept Video. See the script of the film published in this volume.

14 During his first solo show at the Green Gallery in New York in 1963, Morris also exhibited the series of zinc mezzotints “Morris prints” (edition of 20, 1962-1963).

15 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 345.

16 Rosalind Krauss, “The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in Series,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem, ex. cat., 1994, p. 10.

17 We could interrogate the nature and existence of minimalism in the same way Michael Asher reflects upon conceptual art for the exhibition organized by Claude Gintz, “L’art conceptuel, une perspective” (1989): “as much a view of Conceptual Art as it is a perspective of the institutions used for the maintenance and historical reproduction of that practice.” Claude Gintz, L’art conceptuel, une perspective (Paris: Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1989), p. 112, quoted in Peter Wollen, “Global Conceptualism and North America Conceptual Art,” in Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s, ex. cat. (New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999), p. 85. See also Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, op. cit., p. 43, in particular note 10.

18 “Consequently, Untitled (L-Beams), while an early work, still suggests that Morris’ angst and preoccupation with his inner demons, though not as apparent as in later works, existed in his art as early as the 1960s.” Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, “Desublimating Art,” in Robert Morris and Angst (Athens/New York: Bastas Publications/Georges Braziller, 2001), p. 86.

19 “Morris’ minimalist objects are the simple material forms of death, preparing for the process works using waste and smoke.” Donald Kuspit, “The Ars Moriendi According,” in Robert Morris, Works of the Eighties, ex. cat., 1986, p. 13.

20 Robert Morris, on his exhibition at the Sprueth Magers Gallery in London, June-September 2008, “Interview with Simon Grant,” http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/simon-grant-interviews-robert-morris, consulted on November 11, 2008.

21 See the section entitled “Commentary” in Robert Morris, “American Quartet,” Art in America, vol. 69, no. 10 (December 1981), p. 104. See also Jean-Pierre Criqui, “Note lacunaire sur Robert Morris et la question de l’écriture,” translated by Rosalind Krauss as “On Robert Morris and the Issue of Writing: A Note Full of Holes,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem, ex. cat., 1994, pp. 85-86.

22 This text was read aloud during the performance Arizona, June 23, 1963, Judson Memorial Church, New York. Robert Morris, “A Method for Sorting Cows,” [1961] 1967, pp. 180-181, reprinted in Robert Morris, ex. cat., 1971, p. 8.

23 See Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, from R Morris KC MO nineteen forties to R Morris NY nineteen ninety-eight (Zürich: JRP Ringier, 1998), n. p. We find this homage to the work of Morris’ father in a monumental permanent work installed in Kansas City, Missouri: Bull Wall: American Royale, 2 corten steel walls, 16 × 120 feet, 1992.

24 For a close reading of the book Telegram, please see the text of Isabelle Alfandary, “Addressing Oneself: On Telegram by Robert Morris” in this volume.

25 Ibid.

26 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit., 63 pages: 55 pages of text and 8 pages of drawings. The French version edited by Christophe Chérix and translated by Thierry Dubois as Télégramme: les années rationnées: de R Morris KC MO années quarante à R Morris NY NY mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix-huit (Genève: Mamco, 2000) contains 8 drawings, taken from a series of 22 images (alcohol photocopy transfer on different papers, with added graphite and soft lead). (151 × 212 mm).

27 Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.

28 Songs arranged by Robert Candel and mixed by Robert Morris.

29 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit., n. p.

30 Robert Morris, “Interview with Simon Grant,” op. cit.

31 These traces of a traumatic event are inscribed in the deepest recesses of memory and, at the time of their experience, could not be fully integrated into a signifying context. On the question of trauma, see Jean Laplanche, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1967), trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, The Language of Psychoanalysis (New York: Norton, 1967).

32 Nathalie Sarraute, preface to the English translation of Tropismes (Paris: Denoël, 1939), trans. Maria Jolas, Tropisms: & The Age of Suspicion (London: John Calder Editions, 1963), p. 7.

33 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit., n. p.

34 Robert Morris, “Indiana Street, 1993,” in Robert Morris, Have I Reasons, Work and Writings, 1993-2007, 2008, pp. 17-39.

35 Robert Morris, Telegram: The Rationed Years, op. cit.

36 “In this basement zone from which the reign of the totalizing visual had been banished I turned porous to absence and felt its blind aggressivity spreading through and eroding the site of the self opening me to its flow,” ibid., n. p.

37 Ibid., n. p.

38 Robert Morris in Teri Wehn Damisch, Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem (Paris: la SEPT Vidéo, 1995), script reprinted in this volume.

39 Didier Ottinger, “Apocalypse now?,” in Robert Morris, ex. cat., 1995, p. 338.

40 Ibid., p. 333.

41 According to Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, Morris’ works differ from the principal works of neo-expressionism in that they propose neither redemption nor transcendence. His images of chaos, destruction, and suffering project no renewal or hope. See Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, Chapter 5 “Breaking Rules: Morris’s Labyrinth,” in Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, Robert Morris and Angst, op. cit., p. 117.

42 See Éric de Chassey, “Morris le manipulateur d’art,” Beaux Arts Magazine (September 1995), p. 56. This impression is also conveyed by Robert Morgan. “The fact that Morris wants to laminate the historical meaning of the Holocaust against another speculation on what might occur if the nuclear arms race continues unimpeded dilutes the significance of each. History cannot be generalized so easily.” Robert C. Morgan, “Robert Morris: Confronting the Facility of Denial,” Flash Art, no. 140 (May-June 1988), p. 122.

43 Donald Kuspit, “The Ars Moriendi According to Robert Morris,” in Robert Morris, Works of the Eighties, ex. cat., 1986, p. 15.

44 Nena Tsouti-Schillinger, Robert Morris and Angst, op. cit., p. 95.

45 Robert Morris in Rosalind Krauss, “Robert Morris. Around the Mind/Body Problem,” op. cit., p. 30.

46 Robert Morris, “Notes on Art as/and Land Reclamation,” 1980, pp. 87-102, reprinted in Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, 1993, p. 229.

47 Robert Morris, “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism,” 1989, p. 347.

48 “Something to do with the shame of our barbaric and genocidal American foreign policy.” Robert Morris in “Interview with Simon Grant,” op. cit.

49 Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ghosts in the mirror, op. cit., p. 17.

Table des illustrations

Titre 13. Installation view of Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3814/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,0M
Titre 14. Installation view of Robert Morris, The Rationed Years and Other New Work, one-man exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, September 26-November 30, 1998.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3814/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre 15. Robert Morris, Untitled, Sans Titre, 1983. Painted hydrocal and pastel on paper, 84 × 100 inches (213.4 × 254 cm).
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3814/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 289k
Titre 16. Robert Morris, Normal Terror, 1987-2008. Wood, encaustic, fiberglass, lead, 84 × 48 inches (213.36 × 121.92 cm).
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Gallery, Berlin and London. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3814/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre 17. Robert Morris, Morning Terror, 1987-2000-2008. Wood, encaustic, fiberglass, lead, 84 × 48 inches (213.36 × 121.92 cm).
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Gallery, Berlin and London. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3814/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 102k

Auteur

Artist, curator, professor of visual arts, Université Rennes 2.

© ENS Éditions, 2015

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540