Robert Morris’s art criticism and object making through the 1960s exemplifies a period concern: the constitution of the self-possessing subject. This article analyses the contours of artistic presence in his practice against the 1960s’ repudiation of expression. As such, it seeks to intervene into historiographical readings of minimalist art that foreground the paradoxical re-emergence of expression through the ‘anti-humanist turn’. In addition, it contributes an original reading of Morris’s lecture-performance, 21.3 (1964). The article features four case studies: the 1990s’ renewal of art historical interest in the 1960s; Morris’s ‘Notes on Sculpture’ essay series and his presentation of the Gestalt; 21.3 and the status of formalist method; and a review of modernist criticism by Mary Kelly conducted in the early 1980s, and, by way of conclusion, a return to the exhibited object. By analysing the work of art through its layered reception, this article approaches art criticism and object making as homologous sites of inquiry. It is finally claimed that Morris’s insistence on ‘control’ may be read as articulating a professional anxiety concerning the need to strategically stage-manage one’s person in the arena of a shifting art world, in which artistic form was no longer a sufficient condition for winning prestige.