Hunter mourns the loss of renowned artist Robert Morris, who earned his master’s degree in art history at the College in 1966 and went on to become a groundbreaking sculptor, conceptual artist, writer and founder of the minimalist movement. Morris was also a member of the Hunter College faculty for decades, achieving the title of Distinguished Professor in 1998.
Even before earning his master’s, Morris began making his mark in the New York art scene. His 1964 installation at the Green Gallery changed not just the look but also the experience of contemporary sculpture. His gray-painted geometric plywood forms announced a new relationship between sculpture and architecture—structures leaned into corners or against the wall or laid flat on the floor—and between sculpture and the viewer.
A student of contemporary dance as well as modern art history, Morris built his minimalist works in relation to the body, arguing that it is as mobile vertical bodies that we experience works of art in space, and that works of art should be made to structure that experience. From 1966 to 1975, Morris published a series of nine essays in Artforum presenting his theories of sculpture and situations of viewing and making. Those essays traced Morris’s investigations from the geometric forms of his Green Gallery installation and his engagement with the ideas of Gestalt psychology, to his hanging works in industrial felt and his piles and scatters of thread waste and earth, works that focused on what he called the “phenomenology of making.” Morris’s essays on sculpture were as influential on a generation of critics and historians as his sculptures were on a generation of artists.
By the end of the 1960s, it was clear that Morris’s interest in physically structuring bodily experience had a strong political component. His work increasingly addressed confinement and the limitations of the body, taking on themes of the maze, the prison, and the interrogation room. In the 1980s, he designed fictional cenotaphs and memorials, and the decayed and haunted body would remain a theme until his own passing.
Morris’s legacy will live on through his extraordinary works of art, his influential writings on sculpture and in the many talented artists he nurtured as a Hunter professor. The Hunter College community sends our condolences to his wife, Lucile Michels Morris, and his family and friends.