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Robert Morris. Untitled 1978. Mirror, plaster, copper, 99" high. Installation at 65 Thompson, Summer 1993, with pieces by Frank Stella and Keith Sonnier. Photo: Courtesy Leo Castelli, Dorothy Zeidman/photography. 46 E PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL 48 ROBERT MORRIS AT THE GUGGENHEIM Richard Nonas problem with the work of Robert Morris has, and had, to do with its intellectual placement; it has, and had, to do with the context in which it is to be seen. I do not question the context of Morris's individual works, or even the context of his recent Guggenheim Museum retrospective. My problem has, and had, to do with the placement of his entire project, his whole 30year -long connected and continuing excavation of art thinking, art making, art presentation, and art presence. My problem, I mean to say, has always been where to stand in relation to work that trails, digs, marks, and replaces each of the art world's latest footprints with a more cleanly drawn imprint of its own. Morris has been our greatest art-world hunter and gatherer. His project, it seems to me, has always been to sniff out the earliest beginnings of each truly important art movement of his time, and then to provide, consistently and immediately, the earliest meaningful and understandable report on it. But his project has been to provide those reports by doing, making, the art that movement demanded in what often turned out to be a clearer and more readable way than its more single-minded practitioners were able or willing to do. His project has been to make that report in the most spectacular way possible, and then hunt on for something new. His project has been a strangely anthropological one. Morris is the great participantobserver ofour art. He is, I think, as much an ethnographer as he is an artist, though he has, in fact, also made extremely important art too, and I do not mean to deny that. But, the ethnographer conflicts with the artist in a very real, and very interesting, way. There is, for example, a flatness, a reportorial matter-of-factness in all his work that does not exist in the work of any of his contemporaries. It is a kind of emotional absence that in itselfcan be very striking. This quality has often been described as coldness, but it is more accurately and usefully described as anthropological distance. Morris's artwork does not seem to identify itself as invention (as most major work of the time so strongly does) so much as description or example. That almost perverse distancing is indeed the source of its special power. But that descriptive quality also very much changes the presence, meaning, and placement of the work in the context of contemporary art. Morris's work becomes not just strong art in itself, but also a powerful demonstration of what strong art does-a demonstration of what art in general, at that particular moment, can be. . 47 Robert Morris, Untitled(1968).Expanded aluminum. 36" x 144" x 133". Photo courtesy of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. Robert Morris, Untitled(1973). Felt. 9' high x 20' wide x 3' deep. Photo courtesy of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. 48 U PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL 48 Morris's body of work (as opposed to individual works) reads now as a concrete inventory of those art issues that seemed most important to the "international" artworld at every half-decade of the last thirty years-and also at the same time as a clear demonstration now of why they seemed important then. And yet, it does not take the further didactic step of demonstrating why those issues should continue to be important now. And that limitation is a form of ethnographic distancing too. Among the important art issues Morris focused on in the late 1960s and early 1970s were those connected to the explosive intersection between theatre, dance, sculpture, and music. Morris sought out, worked, and collaborated with many of the most interesting people involved. He also created and performed extremely interesting performance works of his own, works that are today among the clearest statements of those issues that were then important to that group of artists...


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