Topologies: Art and Architecture Discourses in and out of Minimalism

By Luke Cohen

The following thesis tracks the dialogues between architecture and the minimalist arts. It is primarily concerned with maintaining critical ideas that fostered the discussion. At the forefront of this project is the term “topology,” which, divorced from mathematics, emblematically functioned to account for the inherently social relationships embedded in the minimalist project. In following this category through works of art and architecture, the thesis makes a case for critical efficacy of the minimalism by underscoring the political dimensions of agency it fostered when implemented within the built environment.

My first case study follows the architectural career of the minimalist sculptor, Tony Smith. It follows how applied geometry in his architectural planning finally gave way to an aesthetic model of geometry. Smith’s geometric sculptures utilized scales from architecture to account for the spectator of his sculpture. Topology, for Smith, became less involved with the rigors of mathematics, and manifested itself as a play of surface relationships between sculpture, the environment and the spectator. In discussing his work I attempt to show how formal models of aesthetics in art and architecture open to a larger social field.

My second case study deals with the architectural work and criticism of artist Dan Graham. Graham’s work represents a shift from minimalist to post-minimalist practices that openly embraced the social model of topology. Through his readings of Robert Venturi, Mies van der Rohe and French artist Daniel Buren I discuss how his engagement problematized notions of the institution within art and architectural practices.

My final case study deals with the architecture of Lina Bo Bardi. In discussing her São Paulo Museum of Art I argue that her work formally took from models of post-minimalist and conceptual art practices to constitute a politically minded project. I contextualize this project amongst other artists contemporary to her in South America to troubleshoot the political efficacy of ideas originating in and developing out of minimalism.