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Process art

In Process art, the means count for more than the ends. The artist sets a process in motion and awaits the results. Eva Hesse used malleable materials like fiberglass and latex to create abstract forms that seem to spring from the interactions of her unstable materials and that are slowly decomposing over time. In Hans Haacke’s Plexiglas cubes, or “weather boxes,” water condenses and evaporates in response to the changing levels of light and temperature in the gallery.

Process art was “certified” by two important museum exhibitions in 1969: “When Attitudes Become Form,” curated by Harold Szeeman for the Berne Kunsthalle, and “Procedures/Materials,” curated by James Monte and Marcia Tucker for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Antecedents of Process art include Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionist poured paintings and the slightly later Stain paintings by Color Field artists such as Helen Frankenthaler. For Pollock and Frankenthaler, the appearance of their work depended partly on chancy processes and the viscosity of specific paints.

Minimalism was a crucial catalyst, for Process artists reacted against its impersonality and formalism. They sought to imbue their work with the impermanence of life by using materials such as ice, water, grass, wax, and felt. Instead of platonic abstract forms that would be at home anywhere in the Western world, they made their works “site specific,” sometimes by scattering components across a studio floor or outdoor setting.

Process artists’ commitment to the creative process over the immutable art object reflects the 1960s interest in experience for its own sake. Also, they hoped to create non-precious works with little allure for the newly booming art market. Process art should be considered alongside other anti-Minimalist trends of that day, such as Arte Povera, Conceptual art, Earth art, and Performance art.

Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.