With its black square surrounding a blank canvas, the British minimalist Bob Law's 1969 work Nothing To Be Afraid Of V, expected to sell this month for £60,000, might seem the ultimate case of artistic daylight robbery. Not according to some art critics, who leapt to Law's defence yesterday.
Law, who died in 2004 and is described as the "founding father of British minimalism" by the London auctioneer Bonhams, attracted derision during his life. In 1971, The Daily Mirror ran a picture of his work with the headline: "What the blankety-blank is this?" In 1977, the Scottish broadcaster Fyfe Robertson, speaking on prime-time BBC television, said his work "could barely be described as art". Now the critics are hitting back.
"It's a bit like trying to kill Bambi, having a go at Bob Law," said Andrew Graham-Dixon, art critic with BBC Two's The Culture Show. "I always thought he was an interesting British contributor to the artistic moment known as minimalism. If people don't want to look at it, they don't have to; they can sod off. I suspect whoever buys it for £60,000 will make money out of it. He's a good egg."
Graham-Dixon's fellow critic Sarah Kent said: "The painting coming up for auction is very abstract, but he also did incredibly beautiful landscape drawings. People might argue that he was a conceptualist who didn't know the ideas behind the work, but that's to misunderstand him completely."
Law was born in Middlesex in 1934. In 1960 he showed work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and was represented throughout the 1970s and 1980s by London's influential Lisson Gallery, which currently shows Anish Kapoor. Public collections holding his work include the British Museum and New York's Guggenheim.
Some, however, will never be convinced. "I see no merit in it," said the Evening Standard's art critic, Brian Sewell. "I find it intellectually insulting. It seems to me that there are so many contemporary painters saying they don't have to create an image. They can abandon the ancestral characteristics of art and say this is a picture and then give you a blank canvas. It's bloody lazy."
Bonhams is due to auction the work on 13 October.