Robert Morris, Untitled (L-beams), 1965 (installation view, Art in Place: Fifteen Years of Acquisitions, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1989). Stainless steel in three parts, dimensions variable. Edition of 3. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Howard and Jean Lipman 76.29a-c
NARRATOR: This 1965 work by Robert Morris consists of three L-beams. They’re bigger than we are, but their scale is easy to relate to our bodies: their sides are eight-feet long, about the height of a door. They sit directly on the floor. Annette Michelson is Professor Emerita of Cinema at New York University. She was one of Morris’s earliest advocates.
ANNETTEMICHELSON: Traditionally it was felt that the space inhabited by a sculpture was other, totally other. It created its own space as it were. But with this kind of composition, the spectator became aware that he and this very simple form inhabited the same space.
NARRATOR: Exploring this shared space means moving around the work, gauging the three elements in relation to your body.
ANNETTEMICHELSON: The idea actually of placing these three totally similar objects at different angles is to constitute three very, very different forms, to which the spectator can respond and, indeed, will respond differently.
NARRATOR: One unit lies on its side, having entirely given in to gravity. Another rests on two edges, arching more energetically into the air. The third stands erect, assuming an almost assertive posture. Rationally, we know the L-beams are identical, but we experience them as being different. Morris deliberately foregrounds this disparity between abstract knowledge and lived experience. As a result, this visually simple work is a complex philosophical exploration of the way we know the world.
In this video, curator Scott Rothkopf discusses the artist Robert Morris’s Untitled (L-beams) (1965), on view in the exhibition Singular Visions.
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