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  Minimalism is art reduced to its minimal elements. In fine art, progenitors of the style included the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich, who in 1913 introduced a movement of his own, Suprematism, with almost identical aims, painted single white squares on white backgrounds and sold the results. But the name ‘minimalism’, in art, is chiefly associated with a movement which rose to prominence in the 1960s, especially in the USA. More common in sculpture than in painting, it eschewed representation and narrative in favour of representing, in the first instance, itself. Thus the ‘primary structures’ of Donald Judd or Carl André, often employing foundry-produced steel cubes or commercially-made housebricks, offer the beholder little information about their purpose beyond the fact of their industrial origin. Such minimalism, in short, embraced the impersonality of industrial production as the vehicle for the artist\'s expression. In painting, minimalism is characterized by rejection of gestural painting and an emphasis on either the hard-edge abstraction of Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly, or on the ‘unpainterly’ qualities of Morris Louis\'s understated, stained canvases.

In music, minimalism is a late 20th-century development. Minimalist composers avoid complex counterpoint, harmonies and serial structures in favour of single chords, rhythms or scraps of tune, many times repeated. The effect is suggestive and hypnotic and the result of each minute change in the texture, say a changed note in a chord or a blip in the rhythm, can be like a hammer-blow. Leading minimalist composers, such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, work with their own specialist ensembles. Other composers, for example Györgi Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki, use minimalist techniques with conventional forces, and have had particular success with works for large symphony orchestra.

The apparent simplicity of minimalist art hides the complexity of its intellectual structure. While the work may exhibit a ‘minumum art content’, it challenges each beholder to experience a layered and complex aesthetic response based on his or her individual expectations and prejudices. There is a strong hint of Dada about minimalism, which (in fine art, for example) allows artists to ‘sign’ heaps of bricks, strips of cloth or mounted tiles, and (in music) to rely apparently on nothing more than gestures. But perhaps because of the engagement of the beholder, minimalist art of all kinds has an ever-growing popular audience, and may eventually be seen as one of the most fundamental and energetic movements of the late 20th century. MG KMcL



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