FUNDAMENTAL ART: Stylish but not a style

Fundamental Art is not considered a movement nor are the artists from the same generation. What they have in common is a shared idea about art. They sought to bring art back to its essence: the material and the way it is applied “is” the artwork. As a result the artworks have little or no visible connection with the world outside the artwork, no representation and no deeper concept.  The painted surfaces give an impression of neutrality.  Subsequently the artworks called “Silent Art”, minimal looking with limited use of colour and no powerful gestures.


A fundamental artwork starts with the basics: an artwork is  a tangible object. It is a canvas consisting of linen and a wedged frame, covered with paint on one side. A drawing consists of ink or graphite on a surface of paper.

The size of this object is the next step. Many fundamental artists have a preference for a neutral format. In most cases this turned out to be a square. The size of the canvas or paper has a specific relation to the human body. This attitude is not conceptual but practical: the canvas must be treated with human means, without complicated artificial devices. 

Then the act of creating starts. It seems simple, but it has been pre-ceded by a process of thinking. The artist works according to a plan. During the work he is subjected to the influence of the labor involved: the applying of paint with a brush or the drawing of a line with a pencil. It might look machine made but it’s all done by hand, over lengthly periods of time. A slight tremble of the hand or fatigue is visible in the end-result. Intuition and imperfection are embraced.


There is no clear starting point for Fundamental art. Some artists were already for years working  towards the foundations of art. It was only a matter of time before the artworld caught up. One of the first exhibitions connected to Fundamental Art was  “Une exposition de peinture réunissant certains peintres qui mettraient la peinture en question” curated by Michel Calura  It opened in the spring of 1973 in Paris and later travelled to Antwerp and Mönchengladbach. The artists Daniel Buren, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman and several others participated. 

Other exhibitions followed in 1973 and in 1974, but highly influential was “Fundamentele schilderkunst/Funda-mental painting” in 1975 at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. This exhibition showed artists of the ‘new painting’ movement who researched  the  basic principles of painting. They restricted them-selves to anti-illusionist painting in which all compositional elements are absent. The exhibition gave name to Fundamental Art as an approach and had a great impact on the Dutch and Belgian Art world.

In may 1975 the exhibition ‘Elementary Forms of Contemporary Painting and Drawing in The Nether-lands’ took place. This exhibition was related to the one in the Stedelijk museum but focussed on works on paper.  The exhibition included works by JCJ van der Heyden, Tomas Rajlich, Martin Rous, Jaap Berghuis, Rob van Konings-bruggen, Jan Schoonhoven and Carel Visser, amongst others.

Across Europe the ideas of Funda-mental art resonated. In Belgium André Beullens, Amédée Cortier, Jo Delahaut, Marthe Wéry, Dan Van Severen and Raoul De Keyser experimented with the principles of Fundamental Art .  

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