Robert Morris: Hanging Soft and Standing Hard

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Robert Morris: Hanging Soft and Standing Hard
Courtesy of Robert Morris and Sprueth Magers Berlin London. Photo: Stephen White
Robert Morris, Installation view of 'Hanging Soft, Standing Hard', 2013

Robert Morris’s L-beams, made in 1965, are one of the key works of Minimalism. I say ‘made in 1965’, but actually the plywood monoliths are simply remade when needed, in order to look as pristine and pure, and as utterly uniform, as possible. The only thing that individuates them is their orientation, and the connotations of each position.

At Spruth Magers, then, one stands ceremoniously upright, eight feet tall; another lying accommodatingly on its side, like a bench; and one propped on its ends, its corner jutting aggressively upwards – the whole point being, of course, that such questions of physical orientation depend in turn upon the orientation of the viewer, who thus becomes implicated in the meaning of the work.

It’s these sorts of self-reflexive, awareness-shifting considerations that Morris’s work is designed to engender – and this installation is particularly good at that, with the beams clustered unusually close together, yet virtually filling the gallery’s tiny back space, so that they seem somehow both confrontational and secretive. The only thing that mildly spoils the uniform, pristine effect is the gallery’s slightly sloping floor, which requires a special stabilizing wedge to be placed under one beam’s edge.

In the larger front space, there’s an updated version of the piece, made in the ’80s, with the Ls built from steel mesh – their permeability leading to further meditations about inside and outside, and the limits of the work – and one of Morris’s wall-mounted ‘anti-form’ works from the ’70s, where material is allowed to settle into its own shape – in this case, a rectangle of white felt that flops diagonally forward, origami-like, at the corners. It’s not one of his simplest, or best, felt pieces – but overall, as a collection of museum-quality work, this show is an absolute must-see.

Gabriel Coxhead


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