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Constructing Space

Explore how Minimalist artists engaged with their physical surroundings.

Corner Mirror with Coral

Robert Smithson
(American, 1938–1973)

1969. Mirrors and coral, 36 x 36 x 36" (91.5 x 91.5 x 91.5 cm)

Smithson believed that taking natural materials out of their original contexts abstracted them. In this work, Smithson’s idea of abstraction is made visual, as the wedge-shaped pile of coral is multiplied and fragmented in its mirror reflections.

Smithson acknowledged that viewers experience artworks with their bodies, not just with their sense of sight, and that their perceptions shift as they move through space. The reflections in Smithson’s mirrors change in direct relationship to the position of the viewer, so no two people experience it in precisely the same way.

Although Smithson was best known for his earthworks, sites in which he manipulated the natural landscape, Corner Mirror with Coral is an example of what he called a “non-site.” “Instead of putting a work of art on some land, some land is put into the work of art,” he said. Smithson’s non-sites sit directly on the floor of the museum rather than on pedestals. This was a huge break from tradition, instigated by Minimalist artists. In opposition to traditional museum display, the works become part of the viewer’s space rather than taking on a separate or elevated status.

The form or condition in which an object exists or appears.

A primarily American artistic movement of the 1960s, characterized by simple geometric forms devoid of representational content. Relying on industrial technologies and rational processes, Minimalist artists challenged traditional notions of craftsmanship, using commercial materials such as fiberglass and aluminum, and often employing mathematical systems to determine the composition of their works.

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

Artistic manipulation of the natural landscape, typically though not exclusively enacted on a large scale.

Non-representational works of art that do not depict scenes or objects in the world or have discernable subject matter.