Robert Morris was born in 1931, in Kansas City, Missouri. He studied art at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (1948 — 50), and at the Kansas City Art Institute, and afterwards enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. From 1952 until 1954, he was a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Between 1955 and 1960, Morris took up his artistic work with painting. Soon, he also became involved with experimental theater and film projects. In 1961, he decided to study art history at Hunter College, New York, and graduated with a thesis on Constantin Brancusi. In 1967, he started to teach at Hunter College. Morris’ interest in phenomenology and Gestalt theory as well as their applicability in art theory and art criticism led to a series of essay publications in the following years. In the context of his work on Brancusi, Morris increasingly turned towards sculpture. Yet Morris also included dance among the forms of artistic expression he focused on and practiced himself. Together with his wife, dancer Simone Forti, he became a member of the Judson Dance Theater and was its choreographer in numerous performances.
Morris’ approach to artistic work is characterized by the close links of his sculptural work to dance and performance. His earliest sculptural wood objects were part of his choreographic designs and served as architectonic props and elements that visually foregrounded gravity and balance in the performed dance. In 1964 and 1965, Morris first exhibited these objects at the Green Gallery, New York. His reduction of the geometrically shaped sculptures to psychological phenomena of spatial perception by variation of format, spatial positioning, and qualities of the material used, turned these objects into the earliest expressions of minimalist interest in form. Like Donald Judd and Carl Andre, Morris used industrially produced materials for his mostly untitled cubes, polyhedrons, and L-shaped angle bars in the years to follow. Among his materials were plastics and metals whose polished surfaces repeat the standards of mass production and, at the same time, mirror fragments of the exhibition room (Mirrored Cubes, 1965). Morris summarized his ideas about this new direction in sculpture in his highly regarded text series »Notes on Sculpture,« published in Artforum, 1966/67.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Morris’ started to produce works made of felt, a material – also favored by Joseph Beuys – whose changeability and weight he found challenging. Bulky felt mats, geometrically cut and often fastened to walls, appeared to be »self-made,« shifting their shapes according to the laws of gravity and thus constantly changing. Morris also probed the density and inertia of the material, combining clumsily layered long pieces of felt arranged on the floor. It is on the basis of his Felt Pieces that Morris formulated his thesis of the »Anti-Form« (Artforum, 1968) or of the material’s liberation from imposed patterns of form. He first showed these objects and assemblages in 1968 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. In the 1970s, Morris again broadened his spectrum of materials by employing organic substances, for example, soil. In the context of Land Art, he now created the monumental Earth Works.
Only in the 1980s did Morris return to painting. He first took up encaustic painting as a technique and developed visions of a nuclear holocaust. This was followed by a series of monumental wax paintings on wood entitled Horizons Cut: Between Clio and Mnemosyne, shown in 1996. This politically motivated return to history and the culture of memory has also been part of his artistic agenda up to the present, for example, in paintings that create references to Edward Hopper and René Magritte (19th Street Cafe, 2003/04; House and Bombs 2004).
Morris’ works were shown at a number of important museum exhibitions, for example, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1970), at the Tate Gallery London (1971), at the Art Institute of Chicago (1980), and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1986). In 1994, a comprehensive retrospective exhibition took place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The exhibition also travelled to Hamburg and Paris.
Robert Morris lives and works in New York.
From Mnemosyne to Clio. The Mirror to the Labyrinth (1998 — 1999 — 2000) Robert Morris: Ausst.-Kat. Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, hg. v. Thierry Raspail, Mailand, u.a. 2000
Robert Morris. Recent Felt Pieces and Drawings: Ausst.-Kat., Kunstverein Hannover u.a., Hannover 1996
Robert Morris. Retrospective: Ausst.-Kat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1994
Berger, Morris: Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s, New York 1989
Robert Morris: Ausst.-Kat. Tate Gallery, London, hg. v. M. Compton und D. Sylvester, London 1971