Abstract

At the beginning of the 1980s, Robert Morris took a decisive and shocking turn. Abandoning the strategies of agency reduction, abstraction, and indeterminacy that had guided his practice since the 1960s, he began to make paintings instead. Architectural in scale and gaudy in their depictions of eviscerated human remains and post-apocalyptic landscapes, the new paintings trafficked in those myths of painting that Neo-Expressionism was just then resurrecting as bankable signs for a consumerist decade: expressivity, figuration, and narrative, among them. What, then, could unite the theorist of anti form—maker of the process-based, anti-object folds, tangles, and mounds of felt and thread waste—with the painter of the baroque, Neo-Expressionist daubs? This paper argues that the paintings of the 1980s, despite their seeming reversals, provide a key for understanding Morris's way of working from his earliest lead and felt projects forward. What they reveal, in short, is an oeuvre guided by a baroque logic of “the fold,” an aesthetic of non-invention that aimed, not at creating but at commandeering and multiplying, for better or worse, existing aesthetic and discursive structures, be they those of Conceptual art, post-Minimalism, or Neo-Expressionism.

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