Robert Morris moved to New York City in 1959, where he studied art history and was active in the experimental dance and performance scene through the Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village. While building props for and choreographing performances, he developed an interest in embodied perception, which he then explored through his pioneering sculptural practice. As early as 1961, he was engaging viewers in sculptural experiences that unfolded in real time and actual space. Between 1962 and 1964, Morris produced seven simple plywood sculptures that were originally intended for his landmark 1964 exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York. Set on the floor or in relation to the gallery’s walls, these polyhedrons defined the gallery’s architecture as sculpture rarely had before, directing a viewer’s focus to the space of the gallery itself. With this body of work, Morris introduced a Minimal art that was fundamentally sculptural and intended to draw attention to the contingencies of space and site.
In the late 1960s, Morris went on to help galvanize interest in Postminimal strategies through his increasingly unstructured installations of cut felt, scattered thread waste, and piled earth. These projects moved the emphasis from the perceiver’s body to that of the artist who was manipulating materials more directly than ever before. Morris chose soft materials such as felt and dirt precisely because of their capacity to reveal the process of making itself. His work was in dialogue with other radical gestures such as Richard Serra’s Scatter Piece (1967), Walter De Maria’s earth-filled rooms (first realized in 1968), and Robert Smithson’s Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis) (1969)—all installations in Dia’s collection.
Like his peer and rival, Donald Judd, Morris was an important theorist of new art throughout the decade. His essays and sculptures served as bellwethers for the formal innovations of the time. His texts “Anti-Form” (1968) and “Notes on Sculpture, Part IV: Beyond Objects” (1969) contextualized this aesthetic and intellectual shift away from the rigid geometry of Minimal art toward the dispersed antiformalism of Postminimal art.
Robert Morris was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1931. He died in Kingston, New York, in 2018.