1978, Firebricks, 5 x 27 x 90, Tate Gallery, London.
Carl Andre was one of the founders of the art movement known as Minimal, Systemic, or ABC Art. It is an art that seeks to eliminate
everything decorative, extraneous and additive, reducing all components to art's purest elements; it is precise, cerebral and austere rather
than accessible. Andre once said that what was beautiful in art was "not that someone is original but that he can find a way of creating in
the world the instance of his temperament." His own temperament is close to the tranquil philosophy of Taoism, and many critics refer to
his work as "pacific."
He reveals little about himself. The men in the family tended to be in building or metal working trades; his father, a marine draftsman, was
also an accomplished woodworker, and his grandfather was a bricklayer.
In an interview video-taped for the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York, the artist said of Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born:
"The industry was granite-cutting and monument sculpture ... My uncle and father mostly worked in the shipyards ... In 1951 I went as a
scholarship student to Phillips Academy, Andover [Massachusetts]. It
was there that I first got to know the joys of making art." He was the youngest of three, the only male; his mother wrote poetry and his father
took the children to museums and read aloud to them. He later worked at
a steel company and on a railroad, traveled to Europe, joined the army.
In 1964 he was invited to exhibit at the Hudson River Museum (where this
writer was Assistant Director) in a suburb outside of New York City. As
Minimalism attracted critical attention, he began exhibiting in the city.
For his one-man exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, the artist set out eight rectangular sculptures deployed on the gallery floor, each
made of 120 bricks. "One hundred twenty is the number richest in
factors," Andre explained, "arithmetic is only the scaffolding or armature of my work." Equivalent VIII, one of the eight works, was
made two bricks high, six across, and ten lengthwise (technically and sometimes referred to as "2 high x 6 header x 10 stretcher"). The
titles supposedly were derived from Alfred Stieglitz's series of photographs of clouds made in the 1920s and 1930s, called Equivalents.
The sculptor's works have nothing to do with clouds, but in mathematical
theory the Equivalence Relation has to do with the relation of sameness between elements, while in physics, the Principle of Equivalence
demonstrates the distinction between inertial and gravitational forces
-- the sort of disciplines that concern Andre.
Emplacement, environment, and relativeness are important in all of this artist's works. "A place is an area within an environment which
has been altered in such a way as to make the general environment more conspicuous," he said. "Everything is an environment, but a place is
related particularly to both the general qualities of the environment and the particular qualities of the work which has been done." The
bricks in Equivalent VIII are humble materials, basic to building, construction, and manufacture; by treating these cubic, tesserae-units
as sculpture, we begin to view the work's physical reality as an
esthetic phenomenon. And since placement generates and energizes the piece, Equivalent VIII and its surrounding environment become one work
Carl Andre invariably works within a strict self-imposed modular system, using commercially available materials or objects, almost always
in identical units or bar forms, such as timber, styrofoam, cement
blocks, bales of hay, etc., with only one type of material per work. He
considers the setting or placement an essential part of the work, and the form of each piece is largely determined by the space
for which it is constructed. "I don't think spaces are that singular, I think there
are generic classes of spaces. So it's not really a problem where a work is going to be in particular. It's only a problem, in general, of
the generic spaces: is it going to be the size of Grand Central Station or is it going to be the size of a small room?"
Equivalent VIII created considerable controversy in London and New York when newspapers
ridiculed the Tate Gallery's purchase (the 1966 work had been dismantled; Andre made a new
version for the Tate). Although the London Sunday Times referred to it as an "insouciant
masterpiece," the Evening Standard called it a "pile of bricks," and even the venerable Burlington
Magazine denounced the museum for squandering public monies on something that "might have
occurred to any bricklayer." In New York City this writer defended it in a letter to
the New York Times: "A lot of people find profound meaning in this abstract balance between the spiritual and the material, which manifests
harmony, proportion and pure order." As a result of the notoriety, Equivalent VIII, of course, became one of the Tate's biggest
attractions. Interestingly, Andre's cubical work is in a museum named after Henry Tate, who made his fortune manufacturing cubes of sugar.
Andre's emphasis on horizontality with the floor strikes at the traditional concept of sculpture as a vertical and anthropomorphic
form. The artist's arrangement of his designated units were made on an
orthogonal grid by mathematical means; and like scientific and mathematical models, the physical
manifestations of concepts and theories are often beautiful objects in themselves. The rectilinear
systems of Equivalent VIII are vertical and horizontal coordinates that manifest themselves in a
commensurable pattern of structural regularity and symmetry.
The correspondence of parts with reference to a median plane has its counterpart on the opposite side of that plane so that the two halves
are geometrically related as a body and its mirror image. The Cartesian
grid, a system in which we control our immediate environment, is the principle rule of this arranged composition ("arranged" implies a fixed
notion to the parts and a pre-conceived idea of the whole). Andre's usual method of cohesion for his forms is inertia and gravity: no mortar
or other binding material is used.
For the ancient Greeks, symmetry was first applied to the commensurability of numbers and
agreement in dimensions, then to that of parts of sculpture or statues, and soon to the elegance of form in
general. Symmetry was considered a "binding together" in a world of mutually related parts of the whole; it presupposed a way in which
differences might be preserved yet integrated. Today we tend to regard symmetry as a bilateral arrangement of parts where the whole is divided
into a number of identical elements or units that are uniformly distributed around a point, plane or line. The order which Carl Andre
imposes on his materials is not designed to create an art object to be gazed at, so much as to create a set of conditions which generates a
perceptual response which we experience as art.
This paper was written with the help of a Release-Time Research Grant from Long Island University at Brooklyn.
Artforum, vol. 5, summer 1967, (special issue on American sculpture).
David Bourdon, Carl Andre, Sculpture 1959-1977, N.Y., c.1978.
Nick Serota, Carl Andre: Sculpture 1959-1978, exhibition catalogue, London 1978.
Irving Sandler, The New York School:
The Painters and the Sculptors of the Fifties, New York 1978.
Waldemar Januszczak, "Bricklaying with Andre," in The Guardian (London),
12 December 1985.
paper was written with the help of a Release-Time Research Grant from Long
Island University, the Brooklyn Campus.
See "Beyond The
to Carl Andre"
Also see "8 Young Artists 1964"
and "8 Young Artists Then & Now 1991"
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