1931 - 2018
An influential figure in several of the artistic movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Robert Morris was born in Kansas City. He studied at the University of Kansas City, the Kansas City Art Institute, and the California School of Fine Arts. After serving in the Army Corp of Engineers, Morris began his artistic career in experimental dance. With his wife, dancer and choreographer Simone Forti, he worked with the Judson Dance Theater after re-locating to New York in 1959.
In the early 1960s, Morris earned a master’s degree in art history at Hunter College. Around this time, Morris began exhibiting pieces that became important in defining Minimalist sculpture. His early sculptural works, made as props for his dance performances, were box-like structures made of wood. These works were followed by pieces made with industrial materials such as aluminum and steel mesh. During this time, Morris also created several Neo-Dada sculptures inspired by Marcel Duchamp.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Morris helped to develop the concept of Process Art in which the emphasis of the artist is upon the process of creation rather than the end result. Other artists who were part of this movement were Lynda Benglis, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Smithson. Very much in the tradition of Duchamp’s famous “retinal art” remark, Morris wrote a seminal essay in 1968 in which he proposed art as an “anti-form” based on process and time rather than as a mere fabrication of an “object-type.” Like Claes Oldenburg, he began using soft materials such as felt to create large sculptures that explored how ordinary materials reacted to gravity and physical stress. To dematerialize his work, he also used ephemeral materials such as dirt, steam, and textile waste.
His work with books and prints consists mainly of contributions to collaborative works. These include the important Conceptual art publication the Xerox Book (1968) and An Anthology of Chance Operations (1963) which featured contributions from many artists who would become associated with the Fluxus group.
In 1970 Morris had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art and in 1994 he was the subject of a travelling retrospective organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In addition to these museums, his work is included in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.