Article: David Hodge on Robert Morris’ Minimal Sculpture

Robert Morris’s Minimal Sculpture, the Rise of the Gallery Network and the Aesthetics of Commodified Art

Excerpt from the Oxford Journal of Art, Vol. 39, Issue 3, pp. 421-439.

David Hodge

Painting by Robert Morris called 'Location', dated 1962, technique: oil paint on panel with mechanical counters, 512 × 512 mm. Tate, London (Photo: Tate). © Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London 2016.
Robert Morris, Location, 1962–3, oil paint on panel with mechanical counters, 512 × 512 mm. Tate, London (Photo: Tate). © Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London 2016.

During 1962 and 1963, the American artist Robert Morris made an object called Location (Fig. 1). This is a wooden panel, featuring two tones of lavender-grey paint – a paler background shade overlayed with text and arrows in a slightly darker hue.1 The word ‘LOCATION’ appears across its centre and the arrows point towards its four edges. Each side bears the word ‘CEILING’, ‘FLOOR’, or ‘WALL’, emphasising its architectural environment. An alterable, numerical meter is also embedded into its surface at each edge, accompanied by the word ‘FEET’. These meters are all adjusted whenever Location is displayed to show the distance between the panel’s edges and the limits of the room.

By literally pointing beyond its borders, Location insistently highlights its connection with its surroundings. Moreover, by prominently displaying this relationship between the work and its environment on and even within the object’s surface, Morris blurred the boundaries between inside and outside, suggesting that Location’s artistic content is substantially defined by its immediate spatial context.2 However, this reading is complicated by the fact that the meters are changeable, which suggests a very different mode of spatiality, presenting the work as something designed for transportation. Any relationship it establishes with a particular room will inevitably be temporary, since Location was not produced for permanent display at a single site, but instead always intended for circulation and exchange. Consequently, Location stages a confrontation between two spatial modes, which simultaneously condition the modern artwork. While an art object’s appearance and meaning are inevitably intertwined with the space and place it occupies, modern works have largely been portable commodities, always already displaced … Oxford Journal of Art