The Subject of Minimalism: Krauss, de Duve and Anthropomorphism

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Minimalism is routinely interpreted as anti-subjective, anti-expressive and anti-aesthetic. This paper challenges this interpretation by closely examining two accounts of the viewing subject of minimalism: Rosalind Krauss’s article of 1973, “Sense and Sensibility: Reflections on Post 60s Sculpture,” and Thierry de Duve’s amplification and refutation of aspects of Krauss’ argument in his 1983 article, “Performance Here and Now: Minimal Art, a Plea for a new Genre of Theatre.” Each believes that minimalism is something like a sensuous theory of the subject, and each produces an account of subjectivity that is both embedded in the work and yet produced by the viewer’s interaction with it. This focus on the actions of the viewer has very curious effects. It moves art criticism away from a concern with art production and towards a concern with aesthetic reception. This leads, I argue, to an unprecedented entanglement of the viewer and the work of art. This entanglement, and the anthropomorphic work of art it produces, are the central concerns of my paper. It is my contention that aesthetics allows us to see more clearly what is at stake in the refiguring of art that these two ground-breaking accounts of minimalism trace. Thus, although minimalism is often argued to mark the beginning of an anti-aesthetic tradition in art practice and art criticism, its radical achievements are best understood through aesthetics.
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Best, Susan
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