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Robert Morris: Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art Exhibition

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10/08/2001

NEW PALTZ -- Selected drawings and performances on video by Robert Morris, an influential figure in contemporary art and art criticism, comprise a new exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art opening Saturday, October 6, 2001. This show is the first in a newly established annual series that features prominent artists from the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions. The Morris exhibition is on view through November 18.

Robert Morris's critical writing and artistic work helped to shape some of the most notable art movements of the 1960s and 70s, including Minimalist sculpture, Process art, Earthworks, and task-oriented dance. However, even after an initial exhibition of the artists' drawings at the Williams College Museum of Art in 1982, curated by Thomas Krens, this work received little notice. In subsequent exhibitions, Morris's drawings are given little attention except to suggest the preparatory work for his sculptures and large-scale pieces. Yet the sheer volume of drawings that Morris produced - over 2000 pieces in 20 years - and the conceptual weight of these works suggest that this form of expression deserves the attention given by this exhibition.

During the 1960s, Morris's sculptures and installations exhibited the symbolic, physical, and perceptual qualities of Minimalism. But drawing provided a similarly effective means for expressing Morris's somewhat abstract and complicated ideas and allowed further contemplation on the concepts of possibility and actuality. "Drawing," says Christophe Cherix, catalogue essayist and exhibition curator, "is the ideal technique, because it suggests a possible realization without implying it de facto."

"Cenotaph for Cancer (Botanical Garden)" (1979) further illuminates the depth of meaning achieved by Morris in his drawings. The work includes few discernable figures: pencil strokes suggest a spare woodland and a flat horizon. The title and accompanying text give meaning to the otherwise completely abstract work - "various corporations, tobacco, chemical companies, etc., can sponsor a plant, a bench, a pond, etc." By combining both thought and form in one drawing, Morris provides a representation of spatial experience, thus resolving a dilemma that figures centrally in all his work.

The Robert Morris catalogue, which accompanies the exhibition, is generously funded by Jim and Mary Ottaway of New Paltz, New York. It is the first catalogue in a series that will feature contemporary artists who live and work in the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz is open Tuesday to Friday, from 12 noon - 4 PM, and on weekends from 1-4 PM. For more information on this and other exhibitions at the SDMA, call 845-257-3844 or visit the museum on the Web at www.newpaltz.edu/museum.

Additional information about upcoming arts events at SUNY New Paltz can be obtained on the Web at www.newpaltz.edu/artsnews, or by calling 845-257-3858.

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Artist's Biography: Born February 9, 1931, in Kansas City, Missouri, Robert Morris turned to art and art criticism after studying engineering, eventually writing a 1966 master's thesis on Constantin Brancusi at Hunter College, New York. Since then, Morris has continued to write influential critical essays, four of which serve as a thumbnail chronology of his most important work: task-oriented dance ("Some Notes on Dance," 1965), Minimalist sculpture ("Notes on Sculpture," 1968), Process art ("Anti Form," 1968), and Earthworks ("Aligned with Nazca," 1975).

During the 1950s, Morris grew interested in dance while living in San Francisco with his wife, the dancer and choreographer Simone Forti. After moving to New York in 1959, they participated in a loose-knit confederation of dancers known as the Judson Dance Theater, for which Morris choreographed a number of works, including Arizona (1963), 21.3 (1964), Site (1964), and Waterman Switch (1965).

During the 1960s and 1970s, Morris played a central role in defining three principal artistic movements of the period: Minimalist sculpture, Process Art, and Earthworks. In fact, Morris created his earliest Minimalist objects as props for his dance performances-hence the rudimentary wooden construction of these boxlike forms, which reflected the Judson Dance Theater's emphasis on function over expression. Morris exhibited entire rooms of these nondescript architectural elements at the Green Gallery, New York, in 1964 and 1965. In the latter half of the 1960s, Morris explored more elaborate industrial processes for his Minimalist sculpture, using materials such as aluminum and steel mesh. Like these industrial fabrications, a series of Neo-Dada sculptures Morris created in the 1960s also challenged the myth of artistic self-expression. These included ironic "self-portraits" consisting of sculpted brains and electroencephalogram readouts as well as other works directly inspired by Marcel Duchamp's quasi-scientific investigations of perception and measurement.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the rigid plywood and steel of Morris's Minimalist works gave way to the soft materials of his experiments with Process Art. Primary among these materials was felt, which Morris piled, stacked, and hung from the wall in a series of works that investigated the effects of gravity and stress on ordinary materials. A variety of these felt works were shown in 1968 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. Subsequent projects Morris made during the late 1960s and early 1970s included indoor installations of such unorthodox materials as dirt and threadwaste, which resisted deliberate shaping into predetermined forms, and monumental outdoor Earthworks. Since the 1970s, Morris has explored such varied mediums as blindfolded drawings, mirror installations, encaustic paintings, and Hydrocal and fiberglass castings, on themes ranging from nuclear holocaust to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

Numerous museums have hosted solo exhibitions of his work, including New York's Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1980, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in 1986, and Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1990. In 1994, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, organized a major retrospective of the artist's work, which traveled to the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. The artist lives in New York City and Gardiner, New York.

SUNY New Paltz is a university of nearly 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students located in the Mid-Hudson Valley halfway between New York City and Albany. SUNY New Paltz is committed to providing high quality, affordable education to students from all social and economic backgrounds. For more information about the university, visit its web site at http://www.newpaltz.edu.