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Robert Morris (b. February 9, 1931 Kansas City, Missouri) is an American sculptor, conceptual artist and writer. He is regarded as one of the most prominent theorists of Minimalism along with Donald Judd but he has also made important contributions to the development of performance art, land art, the Process Art movement and installation art.
Morris studied at the University of Kansas, Kansas City Art Institute, and Reed College. Initially a painter Morrisâ€™ work of the 1950s while studying and living in San Francisco was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and particularly Jackson Pollock. In California Morris also came into contact with the work of LaMonte Young and John Cage. The idea that art making was a record of a performance by the artist (drawn from Hans Namuthâ€™s photos of Pollock at work) in the studio led to an interest in dance and choreography. Morris moved to New York in 1960 where he staged a performance based on the exploration of bodies in space in which an upright square column after a few minutes on stage falls over. Morris developed the same idea into his first Minimal Sculptures Two Columns shown in 1961, and L Beams (1965).
In New York, Morris began to explore the work of Marcel Duchamp making pieces that directly responded to Duchampâ€™s (Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961), Fountain (1963). In 1963 he had an exhibition of Minimal sculptures at the Green Gallery in New York that was written about by Donald Judd. In 1964 Morris devised and performed two celebrated performance artworks 21.3 in which he lip syncs to a reading of an essay by Erwin Panofsky and Site with Carolee Schneemann. Morris enrolled at Hunter College in New York (his masters thesis was on the work of Brancusi) and in 1966 published a series of influential essays "Notes on Sculpture" in Artforum.
In 1967 Morris created Steam an early piece of Land Art. By the late 1960s Morris was being featured in Museum shows in America but his work and writings drew criticism from Clement Greenberg. His work became larger scale taking up the majority of the gallery space with series of modular units or piles of earth and felt. In 1971 Morris designed an exhibition for the Tate Gallery that took up the whole central sculpture gallery with ramps and cubes. He published a photo of himself dressed in S&M gear in an advertisement in Artforum, similarly to Lynda Benglis, who Morris had collaborated with on several videos.
During the later 1970s Morris switched to figurative work, a move that surprised many of his supporters. Themes of the work were often fear of Nuclear War. During the 1990s returned to his early work supervising reconstructions and installations of lost pieces. Morris currently lives and works in New York.
In 1974, Robert Morris advertised his display at the Castelli Gallery with a poster showing him bare-chested in sadomasochistic garb. Critic Amelia Jones asserts that the body art poster challenged and reinforced his masculinity. Through the poster, Morris equated the power of art with that of a physical force, specifically violence.
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