Cuts into Space: Sculptures by Carl Andre
Essay by Marianne Stockebrand
Although this exhibition is the first in twenty years in an American museum to show work by Carl Andre, it focuses on only a handful of sculptures rather than aiming for a survey. Andre was born in 1935 in Quincy, MA, and moved to New York City in 1957, where he continues to live and work. From early on his artistic interest was in sculpture. He admired the works of Brancusi and David Smith and traveled to England where he saw Stonehenge and Avebury. He began to carve wood and scavenge materials to build sculptures. By 1960 he was conceiving of works with same-sized elements (initially wood), combining them into T, H, L, or similar forms. By 1966 he had begun orientating his sculptures horizontally, low on the floor, typically in the shape of lines or rectangles that were made of bricks, metal plates, or timber blocks. As sculptures had been configured vertically for centuries, the flatness of these new works was a radical invention. One critic observed that “the engaged position of Andre’s sculptures is to run along the earth”—in contrast to Brancusi’s endless column running into the earth. With these new works, Andre became focused on “place-making”: evoking an awareness of a particular situation, the Here and Now, through the simplest and least conspicuous arrangements. These interests have remained alive and dominant throughout his oeuvre, permitting him nevertheless a wide range of realizations, executed in manifold materials, configurations, and sizes, both indoors and outdoors.
The most recent work in this exhibition is Chinati Thirteener, which was designed by Andre for the courtyard of Chinati’s temporary gallery. It consists of 13 strips of hot-rolled steel plates, each 12 x 36 inches, laid out in equal distances on a surface of gravel. These lines mark the rectangular area in loose relation to the vertical posts running along the porch. An interesting aspect is the alteration of smooth steel surfaces and rough gravel; the distinction between them will only be enhanced over time, as the steel plates will entirely rust and then show an even greater contrast to the pebbles.
Inside the gallery, three works from the sixties and one from 1988 point to some of Andre’s most significant sculptural inventions. 35 Timber Line, from 1968, was originally conceived for an exhibition in Düsseldorf and later installed in a cloister in Frankfurt. Its 35 timber elements form a straight line, running from end to end of the gallery, while Zinc Ribbon, from the following year, extends—irregularly curved, partly coiled—into the space. The beauty of both works becomes even more apparent through the juxtaposition of the material qualities that constitutes these lines: the rough and heavy wood vs. the thin and snakelike elegance of the ribbon.
Another large work is 46 Roaring Forties from 1988, created for an exhibition in Madrid, consisting of 2 x 23 squares of 1 x 1 meter each of weathered cold-rolled steel, covering much of the gallery’s floor. Because the work has been displayed outdoors its plates are rusted, some more evenly than others, adopting a saturated brown coloration.
The fifth work represents an oddity in Andre’s oeuvre. The iron rod leaning against the wall with a Camel cigarette pack stuck in the loop belongs to a little-known category of his art that engages the legacy of Dada and Surrealism and the found object. These objects are collectively called “Dada Forgeries”; the one in this show is named The Sign of Immortality and dated 1963. Interestingly, the year 1963 was one of Andre’s most productive in regard to writing poetry; in fact, in those first years of the decade he focused more on poetry than sculpture, but wrote poetry in a way his sculptures would shortly come to resemble. His 100 Sonnets, for instance, are composed like a floor sculpture by repeating the same word in one line, adding 14 lines to make a square. This form had not yet occurred in Andre’s sculpture, but soon would. The relationship between sculpture and poetry in Andre’s oeuvre is fascinating, and can now be studied at Chinati thanks to the permanent installation of Andre’s Words and the current temporary exhibition of these sculptures.
The exhibition has been generously supported by Franck Giraud and Gonzague de Luze, New York; Paula Cooper, New York; Michael Zilkha, Houston; and Okey and Cathy Johnson/White Star Steel, Houston.