Nothing Less than Literal

Nothing Less than Literal

Architecture after Minimalism

By Mark Linder

How minimalist art was infiltrated by architecture in the 1960s: a history of the exchanges of formalist concepts and techniques that resulted in a reconfiguration of two disciplines.





How minimalist art was infiltrated by architecture in the 1960s: a history of the exchanges of formalist concepts and techniques that resulted in a reconfiguration of two disciplines.

In Nothing Less than Literal, Mark Linder shows how minimalist art of the 1960s was infiltrated by architecture, resulting in a reconfiguration of the disciplines of both art and architecture. Linder traces the exchange of concepts and techniques between architecture and art through a reading of the work of critics Clement Greenberg, Colin Rowe, Michael Fried, and the artist-writer Robert Smithson, and then locates a recuperation of "the architecture of minimalism" in the contemporary work of John Hejduk and Frank Gehry.

"Literal" was not only a term used by Fried to attack minimalism; it was a key term for Greenberg as well, and in both cases their use of that term coincides with discussions of the architectural qualities of art. Linder gives us the first thorough examination of the role that architectural concepts, techniques of representation, and practices played in the emergence of minimalism. Beginning with a comparison of the "postcubist" writings of Clement Greenberg and Colin Rowe, he reveals surprising affinities in their critical formulations of pictorialism—including the use by both of an analogy between cubist collage and architectural space. This is followed by an account of the sharp differences between Michael Fried and Robert Smithson; Linder contrasts the sublimation of space and refusal of architecture in Fried's concept of the "radically abstract" with Smithson's explicit embrace of architectural thinking and his complex concepts of space. Finally, Linder looks at particular instances in the work of two architects who, through collaboration with artists, engaged the legacy of literalism—John Hejduk's Wall House and Frank Gehry's decade-long fascination with the figure of the fish. Linder shows how the "productive impropriety" of transdisciplinary borrowing in the discourses surrounding minimalism serves as a counterexample to the prevalent perception of "disciplines" as conservative and institutionalizing.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262122665 294 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 137 b&w illus.


$21.95 T | £17.99 ISBN: 9780262622080 294 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 137 b&w illus.


  • ...adventurous... essays open up a greater range of debate and questioning that has recently disappeared in discussions about 'nothing more than architecture.



  • Linder refreshes the debate over a well-documented historical period with a compelling argument of inspiring and insightful scholarship. In light of the wide range of media used by architects today, readers will also find Linder's book a surprisingly timely entry on the contemporary significance of the physical, literal property of architecture.

    Jeffrey Inaba

    Program Director of Post-Graduate Studies, Southern California Institute of Architecture

  • Centered around events of 1967, Mark Linder's Nothing Less than Literal provides a major reconceptualization of the history of American formalism and its discontents by exposing architecture's 'undisciplined' appearance within art discourse and practice. In a provocative twist on traditional scholarship, Linder convincingly asserts that architecture appears before art in the conceptual development of modernist formalism. Rather than engage in the stale and seemingly endless squabbles over whether, or to what degree, architecture is an art, Linder cleverly and economically demonstrates how modernist art emerged through architecture. He delivers this argument with great erudition and specificity, offering nothing less than a literally reconfigured map of two disciplines and their relations at a crucial moment in recent history.

    Robert Somol

    Department of Architecture and Urban Design, University of California, Los Angeles

  • The renegotiation of an art object's relationship to its physical, temporal, and institutional context remains a lasting legacy of the polemics embodied in minimal art in the 1960s. Linder provides an insightful and provoative reconsideration of the role of architecture in the critical discourse of minimalism, making his work an essential text for anyone examining the art and architecture of this pivotal period.

    Ann Goldstein

    Senior Curator, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles