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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Minimal artists rose in the 20th century to become a major part of the modern art movement. Here we examine the most famous members of this highly abstract style.

Introduction to Minimal Art

Minimalism would impact a variety of artistic disciplines, but our main focus in this article is on the visual arts, particularly painting. Minimal Art represents the true endpoint, where the end of the path to abstraction has been arrived at. Minimal paintings will often feature no detail whatsoever, or as little as possible, and this would force color choices to be carefully considered. Earlier artists such as Kazimir Malevich, with Black Square and White on White had already shown the way, with the Minimal Art movement coming about several decades later.

Despite reducing detail to its minimal level, there was still great variety within Minimal Art. Geometric and cubic forms could be used, as well as some subtle patterns, and artists would also experiment with different materials. Mixed media proved particularly popular with modern artists in the second half of the 20th century, thanks to its ability to bring an almost infinite number of alternative variations to artists, as well as potentially making a piece entirely unique and impossible to reproduce.

List of Famous Minimal Artists

A list of minimal artists is included below and includes installation artists, sculptors plus many painters. Some of these artists would have covered multiple art disciplines and mediums across their careers, and they are provided alongside short summaries of their careers. Most of those featured here achieved fame in the second half of the 20th century, with some still alive and well today.

By this point in the evolution of western art, the US had become the dominant force, just as it remains today. As such, most of the minimal artists featured here are indeed American, and many were inspired, or worked alongside, the Abstract Expressionists who achieved success in New York at around the same time. Those artists, such as Rothko and Pollock, were equally impactful, but used a busier style that can be found in the examples listed below.

There are many related artists who have not been featured here, but whose styles may well have influenced minimal artists. Most were involved in the New York art scene from the 1960s onwards, and Mark Rothko was a good example of that through his Color Field work. Other names below were also part of the same group. There were also the likes of Pollock who were extravagant in their approach but helped to evolve abstract art, with Minimalism being the end point of that progression. Additionally, there were Europeans such as Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian who made their impact in the first half of the 20th century.

Donald Judd

Despite rejecting any connection to the term Minimalism, Donald Judd can reasonably be classified within this group of artists. He was involved in Minimalism sculpture predominantly, and also was a key figure in helping to write theories around the approach. He would use all manner of materials for his work including wood, metal and even concrete, and his rejection of the term Minimalism was because of how he saw considerable variety within the supposed group, making it inaccurate to label them as one single entity.

Some see Judd as the leader of Minimal artists, and he initially worked with painting before switching to sculpture. Despite the simplicity of his work, aesthetically, there was much thought put into his creations and those with only a passing interest in his work would often miss out on the meaning and symbolism behind his sculptures. He believed that the methods of production were not relevant to the integrity of final piece.

Carl Andre

Carl Andre is a respected American artist who produced Conceptual Art, with Minimalist installations and sculptures. Many of his creations, certainly those which best summarise his oeuvre, were grid-like creations akin to tiled floor patterns. He achieved considerable success within his own career, working and exhibiting alongside a number of other famous artists, as well as being featured in major US galleries.

In a similar manner to Judd, Andre would also write a number of publication. His life in working-class jobs early on would impact his behavior, sometimes dressing in the same garments that he wore whilst working as a freight brakeman and conductor, which gave him a unique quality which stood out from other artists of the time. Generally, Minimal artists were from middle to upper class families, with little connection to the lives of ordinary folk.

Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt was a multi-skilled American Conceptual and Minimal artist who worked in a variety of mediums, including drawing, sculpture and wall art. Many of his creations featured geometric patterns and he also became involved in film, photography and literature. He was another artist who achieved considerable success in his own lifetime, and a large number of major exhibitions have been held in his honor, mainly in his native US.

Sol became interested in child education and sought to create art which would help teach children, as well as publishing a number of children's books using his considerable talents as an illustrator and writer. There seemed no limit to his creative ability, and he never stopped taking on new challenges throughout his lifetime.

Frank Stella

Frank Stella is a memorable American artist famed for his use of geometric patterns within a variety of abstract creations. Stella has been linked to a variety of art movements, all of which fall under the banner of modern art, but his oeuvre is relatively unique and he has enjoyed considerable success in his career since around the mid-20th century. Some of the interesting innovations in his career included shaped canvases, where the traditional rectangular form is rejected in favor of customised shapes, sometimes even without the flat perspective.

Stella has been featured in most major modern art galleries across the US, often with specific exhibitions that bring together some of his best known pieces and he has also been featured elsewhere in the western world, such as Germany, France and the UK. He remains regarded as one of the most famous Minimal artists in history.

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin was a highly abstract Canadian female painter who is famous for grid-like structures laid onto single tone large canvases. Her style was inspired by meditative reflection, and a desire to reject formal objects and create a new environment which her art that could better soothe the mind. In other examples she would implement simple arrangements of colors in rectangles, some of which would leave individual brushstrokes still visible, with other parts formed into a more uniform state.

20th century art was more welcoming to female artists than had been the case previously, and artists such as Martin were able to achieve success with fewer barriers placed in their way. Agnes was one of the few Canadians to achieve success in the US, taking advantage of the impressive movement which centered around New York in the second half of the century.

Dan Flavin

Dan Flavin was a famous Installation artist who produced Minimal art using carefully arranged lighting, normally in the form of luorescent light fixtures in a multitude of colors. Flavin became the leader in this field, drawing attention to what was previously something of a niche pursuit within modern art. As with many of those listed in this article, he achieved considerable success within his own lifetime and was commissioned to produce a number of installed pieces across the western world.

Flavin's unique approach to art has helped to attract new followers to modern art, often surprised and impressed by the ingenious designs that this Installation artist has manged to achieve. Indeed, there are no similar artists to Flavin included in this article, such was his uniqueness, and the medium in which he devoted the majority of his time to.

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly was a leading figure in 20th century painting, sculpture and printmaking. He was connected to the Color Field movement, as well as Minimal Art. This New Yorker was ideally located to join his native city's push to become the leading captital of western art, replacing Paris which had dominated through the 19th century. Kelly's paintings were varied in their patterns, using tiles, single shapes and also more organic styles at different points.

Amongst the variation, Kelly would rely on reduced detail and key colors, in line with modern art as a whole. His career was long and distinguished, crossing six decades, allowing a certain level of variety along the way. He remains one of the most highly regarded New York artists of his era, and a key influence on Modern Art.

Robert Morris

Robert Morris was an American sculptor and conceptual artist who also became involved in the theories behind these important art movements. The artist was born in Kansas City, but achieved most of his success in New York, which had by then become a major hub within the art industry, boasting many of the most influential artists, collectors and modern art galleries. As with a number of Minimal artists, Morris initally worked as a painter, before switching his attention to sculpture.

His time in New York allowed him to study other related artists and progress his own work within a welcoming environment which most modern artists outside of New York did not experience. He received commissions as his reputation for sculpture spread and this left behind a strong legacy of sculptures installed outdoors, many of which still remain in their original locations today.

Richard Serra

Richard Serra installed a number of large sculptures which were customised for each client. He used a variety of materials for his work, though many of his best known permanent pieces were produced in steel and were robust in their construction, ensuring they could be used indoors or outdoors. Serra was born in Los Angeles and achieved most of his success in the US, but also received some notable commissions in Europe too, with Germany embracing Minimal Art in many of their public buildings.

One of the key differences between Serra and other members of the movement is the way in which he considered the environment in which each piece was to be displayed as part of its design. This gave a uniqueness to each and every project, generating a harmonious connection between the artist and those commissioning each piece.

Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse is generally regarded as a Postminimalism artist and moved from her native Germany to America, in search of commercial success. Her legacy was sadly ended prematurely by a brain tumor which caused her death at the age of only 34 in 1970, just at the time that modern art was really starting to build momentum. Her sculptures were exciting and varied in their nature, and she was another modern artists to combine all manner of different materials across her career.

Political instability in Germany led to the artist relocating, first to England, and then onto the US. Many other artists followed this route, including others from Germany and also a number from Russia and related East European countries who similarly found their regimes were not the right environments in which to work creatively. This was particularly the case for contemporary artists who were more likely to be unfavored by authorities.

Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt was a Minimal sculptor who regularly used hard edges, with relatively simple shapes in a large format. She was also a successful painter, and part of the Color Field movement which included the likes of Rothko and produced highly abstract forms with a reduced palette. Her success led to exhibitions across the US, and her legacy remains strong today, as she is considered one of the most significant Minimal artists, of any gender.

Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman was an American abstract painter who often used white on white combinations, contrasting in a very subtle manner. This approach took minimalism to its most extreme, and it seemed difficult to go any further than the likes of Ryman had achieved. Related artists included Rothko and Barnett Newman, both of whom arrived slightly earlier. European success followed as American art started to influence the region, with many Minimalist artists receiving commissions to work there.

Tony Smith

Tony Smith was a sculptor and visual artist, born in New Jersey, USA. He is best remembered for a number of large outdoors installations, most of which can be viewed today by the public in cities such as Pittsburgh. He also worked as an architect and lived a varied life across his career, stretching his creativity down a number of avenues, and also working collaboratively with some other significant names from American art of that era.

Jo Baer

Jo Baer is a Minimalist painter from Seattle who currently resides in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her work reduced abstract art to single colors in some examples, whilst other works a more complex. She was influenced by a number of the New York School, but innovated considerably within her own oeuvre. Typically, artists have evolved into more abstract forms as their careers have developed, but Baer actually started off abstract initially, and then has evolved into more complex shapes and forms in later life. Testament of the Powers That Be (Where Trees Turn to Sand, Residual Colours Stain the Lands) and Dusk (Bands and End-Points) are examples of that.

Carmen Herrera

Carmen Herrera was an American artist with roots in Cuba who is loosely connected to the Abstract Expressionist movement. Many of her works featured simple arrangements of abstract shapes, always in a clear, simple use of color. She was born in Havana but was able to pursue her artistic dream in the city of New York, making an entrance into modern art almost inevitable at that time. She was originally trained in architecture prior to leaving Cuba, and elements of this knowledge would impact her time as a visual artist.

Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich arrived many decades before the other artists in this list of Minimal artists, and so it not generally classified within that group. His style, however, was perfectly suited to the group, and he even innovated with White on White, where similar tones would be placed on top of each other in a manner which was years ahead of its time. Malevich himself had to leave much of his best work in Germany due to political issues in Russia which meant his modern art approach was prohibited by the authorities.

Germany itself would later develop a similarly hostile environment in the 1930s and 1940s, causing other modern artists to then head to the UK or US. Malevich's approach would influence many, though, and his legacy did not suffer from these problems. His theories would also be read and appreciated by American artists who took his ideas into their own work in the second half of the 20th century. His use of simple abstract shapes in a limited palette continued into the New York art scene, as late as the 1970s and 1980s, making his own achievements particularly early on in the evolution of modern art.

One of the reasons to leave Malevich out of the Minimal artist list is that he also became involved in other specific movements such as Suprematism, which was a Russian-born movement which made use of abstract shapes in simple colours. These were more complex compositions than seen in Minimal art, whilst the artist also captured scenes of peasantry in his local community later in his career as a way of avoiding further conflict with the ruling authorities. Malevich remains one of the most famous European abstract artists, and left a crucial legacy which would influence all that followed within modern art.

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian reduced his paintings down to basic arrangements of line and color in the latter part of his career, having initially worked in a more complex, traditional manner early on. His evolution was shown across his oeuvre as he became more and more abstract over time, initially approaching an Expressionist manner, before any connection to reality was lost. That said, his abstract compostions were supposed to represent items from the real world, it was just that it was not possible to identify them without help from the title of the piece, or prior knowledge.

The artist became known as a Neoplasticism artist, where he was joined by the likes of Theo van Doesburg. He filled most of his shapes with tones of red, blue and yellow, as found in Compostiion with Red, Blue and Yellow, which is perhaps his most famous iteration in this style. He is regarded as perhaps the most famous Dutch abstract artist in history, and also produced some stunning, expressive landscape scenes earlier in his career.

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman was another part of the New York School who worked in a truly abstract manner, regularly limiting his painted canvases to just a few colors, with one dominant area joined by horizontal rectangles which spread right across. Tones of brown and red would often feature and the abstract nature of his work meant visitors were often left to debate over the meaning, or non-meaning of the content of his paintings.