Robert Morris Biography

Robert Morris




Multi-disciplinary artist, art theorist, and writer Robert Morris was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 9, 1931. He studied engineering at the University of Kansas City from 1948 - '50, overlapping with art studies at the Kansas City Art Institute. He then moved west to California, where he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, in 1951. This was short lived as he put his education on hold to serve in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1951 to 1952. Following his discharge he relocated to Portland, Oregon to study philospohy at Reed College from 1953-'55, and then returned to San Francisco where he immersed himself in improvisatory theatre, film and painting and had his first one-man exhibition of paintings at the Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco, in 1957.

In the 1950s Morris was primarily a painter, influenced by the new wave of Abstract Expressionists, particularly Jackson Pollock. Collaborations with Warner Jepson and Morris' first wife, dancer Simone Forti, led to Morris' interest in the physicality of large-scale painting - especially with regard to Hans Namuth's films of Pollock at work on his canvases - and they collaborated on multi-disciplenary works, inspiring Morris to delve into new mediums. He moved to New York City in 1961 and continued his work in performance art, and turned his fine art lens on sculpture and conceptual works while studying art history at Hunter College (MFA, 1963). His early sculptures were mainly Neo-Dada, small-scale lead reliefs and mixed media works concerned with process, information and paradox, followed by completely abstract, geometric Mijnimal sculptures in painted plywood and later in fibreglass or metal. He published a series of articles on sculpture in Artforum from 1966. In 1967 he began to make soft hanging sculptures in felt and from 1968 to produce process works by the lateral spreading, scattering or stacking of different materials. Morris organised the Peripatetic Artists Guild in 1969, announcing his availability to carry out commissions anywhere in the world. 

Morris switched to figurative work in the 1970s and focused on themes of nuclear war, humanity, and social structures. Using his own body as a means to communicate his ideas, he created what would become one of his most well-known works, an advertisement for an upcoming show featuring himself in sadomasochistic garb as a commentary on hyper-masculinity and homophobia. His later work includes a number of projects for large-scale monuments and earthworks, including the Robert Morris Observatory in the Netherlands in 1971 and a set of seventeen stained-glass windows for the Maguelone Cathedral near Montpelier, France, created in the early 2000s. 

Morris died in November 2018 in Kingston, New York. 

Selected exhbititions:
1958: Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco
1970: Whitney Museum, New York
1980: Chicago Institute of Art
1986: Newport Harbor Art Museum
1990: Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1994: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York/Deichtorhallen, Hamburg/Musee national d'Art Moderne, Paris (travelling retrospective)

Selected collections:
Seattle Art Museum; Western Washington University, Bellingham; Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Modern Art; Guggenheim Museum; Gori Collection (Italy)