This interview with the art historian James Meyer about formalism in minimalist art. The interview discussed his historical work on minimalism, Anne Truit, Modernist painting and sculpture at large.

  • “I think that the effort that I made in the book […] was to historicize ‘minimalism’ to locate it historically to understand what it was…”

  • “I wanted, if you will, to understand what the great critics of the previous period had cut their teeth on and why this art mattered so much.”

  • “There was a great deal of work going on then that was applying structuralist and poststructuralist models by other critics, so it was very much being done. And so to historicize, to do work of history like this, felt like […] something that I could do that was different.”

  • “So there’s absolutely an integrated structuralist view of […] the artist, if you will, and his work, that then in this book you put together six systems and you get a field. So no, structuralism was very much at the core of this book.

  • “So phenomenology, the new novel, Roland Barthes, […] there’s this mix of ideas in the early sixties kind of coming into New York from France, often in translation.”

  • “And that’s a real issue at that time. […] What is the difference between minimalism and pop?”

  • “I’m very skeptical. […] There was this paradigm of east coast and west coast. It was staged in primary structures quite deliberately […]. That was part of the field to say there’s west coast and there’s east coast. But I, personally, think that really simplifies the matter.”

  • “At that point, of course, the ‘minimal’ was an insult. It’s sort of saying there’s not enough to look at here, and it’s barely art. It’s on that border between art and not art.”

  • “But where do you go from there when you reach this degree zero? And that’s of course not a new issue […] It’s a recurring topos of modern art.”

  • “…they don’t follow a particular system anymore. They’re very much chosen and very much composed. And they are relational. There’s a real backing track from the negation, the nonrelational dream that they had had…”

  • “It is a container of meaning. It’s a refraction of meaning. And the meaning tends to be mnemonic, it tends to be a situation from the past that she glimpsed and that returns in the work of art.”

  • “She describes her columns, particularly, as like other persons […] but not as a bad thing. They have a presence. They have those qualities that freed is attacking: presence and anthropomorphism.”

  • “In Truitt, the different sides don’t reconcile, and it’s a kind of additive experience, and, she would describe, syntactical. That you would put these different pieces together in your mind and you will come up with the work.”

  • “Where architectural theory can still be understood as a small group of definable camps, at least, art criticism, it seems to me, […] as being sort of irreversibly pluralized.”

  • “It doesn’t reveal itself, as we know, very easily. It is, as we said, opaque, and I’m still figuring it out. And Truitt said that about her work, that people don’t see it easily. It takes time.”



Hans Tursack

Issue Editor

Hans Tursack

Senior Editor

Joseph Bedford


Trudy Watt


James Meyer


Hans Tursack


National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.