MINIMALISM at the National Gallery

Minimalism, in my opinion, was one of the more difficult art movements to comprehend and appreciate. The artworks are highly conceptual. At the surface, the style is extremely simple with no visible value and many may cast it off as ‘too easy’. One thing that I noticed about Minimalism was that it had a lot to do with space and experience. There were less of “stand and watch” artworks and more of alluring objects that tempts interaction of action or senses. My favourite example of this was Ai Wei Wei’s A Ton of Tea.

Ton of Tea by Ai Wei Wei

As a tea lover, standing in front of this giant tea block, I kept dipping my head to get a whiff of it. It had a familiar scent which I guessed and later confirmed was Pu’er (普洱茶)- a common domestic Chinese beverage easily found in any Chinese dining. Location and placement was significant to this piece as Ai Wei Wei originally wanted the cube to be placed in direct contact with the floor but because the tea was fragile at the edges, the timber pallet beneath was needed for practicality. However, if that were so, the geometric cuboid will create a direct relationship with the space and surroundings. That way, it engages the minds of the viewer to ponder over the industrial tea block, from “What?” to “Why?”.

Rachel Whiteread’s Twenty-five spaces, I believe, also arouse strong urges among its audience. I almost sat on it, thinking they were chairs. So I assumed others also have the same reaction. This work varies depending on its location, at Tate Britain it was a hundred but here it was only twenty five. Does the amount matter? Does the numbers change the meaning?

Twenty Five Spaces by Rachel Whiteread

This piece was about bringing obscurity into light and its effects work better in numbers. The more populated, the more prominent. Unlike Ai Wei Wei’s Ton of Tea, Rachel Whiteread plays with normality. If not told, the artwork can be difficult to be identified.

“Where space stops, her sculpture begins.”

As Twenty Five Spaces was a reference to Bruce Nauman’s (A.k.a. the guy walking contrapposto in a square) A cast of the space under my chair, we can see the resemblance of inducing new perspectives with the manipulation of time.

Plaster cast of a dog

A cast captures a moment, its surface holds the imprints and contours of the mold, leading the viewer back to the absence of its origin. This can be seen in the plaster cast of Pompeii victims. It can also be noted that memory of something dead retains more life than one that is still living.

Humans think and understand better through space in relation to self.  E.g. “Up” is usually good. “Down” is usually bad. This is because one is upright when healthy and alive, laying down when sick or dead. Using space to communicate with the viewer is to speak in the universal language.


Author: Ying Hui

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