This interview with Carl Andre discusses how materials are a natural part of his life.
The reductive process in art has continued to be explored in sculpture. Carl Andre, who was born in 1935 in Quincy, Massachusetts, did not break the tradition of reduction in regard to his sculpture. In fact, Andre advanced the tradition by first removing the base and allowing his sculptures to lay down rather than stand up on the ground. He also removed all the joints between the pieces of his sculptures, making them a collection of individuals that could stand alone, but were meant to be a part of a whole without any physical glue.
Carl Andre studied art at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts with an interest in sculpture. Growing up near a shipyard, Andre would come into daily contact with monumental chunks of granite and large plates of steel used to construct ships. His encountering with large boulders was revisited when he traveled to Stonehenge in England one summer. These colossal presences left a strong impression in Carl Andre's memory, which are evident in his artwork.
In 1957, Andre moved to New York City where he worked as an editorial assistant to a book publisher. While in New York, Andre met Frank Stella who was working on his famous black paintings. Both Stella and Constantin Brancusi influenced the carvings that Andre would make out of wood. Andre carved the sculpture called "Last Ladder" in 1959 out of wood in a manner that made reference to the repetitive stacking of Brancusi's "Endless Column". However, Frank Stella pointed out to Andre that the uncarved faces of timber were also sculpture. This comment altered Andre's philosophy about art and he began to make structure from the material rather than put structure into the material by altering it.
Carl Andre had to find a day job as a train conductor to support himself because he could not find buyers or dealers that were interested in his art. This experience proved to be helpful in the development of his artistic ideas. He was interested in how all the boxcars were individual presences, but when linked together they would form an entirely new identity known as a train. The boxcars were also interchangeable adding to his fascination with identical multiples.
This concept developed into a sculpture called "Lever" in 1966, which was displayed at the "Primary Structures" show at the Jewish Museum in New York City. This work consisted of a long row of 139 unconnected bricks, which were laid across the museum's floor. The manufactured bricks were arranged in a simple shape in order to make the viewer observe the objects just as they are without the distraction of any internal compositional effects.
These works, of course where controversial when first shown because of the humble materials that he used and the fact that he eliminated the "structure" of the sculpture, which is the stuff that holds sculpture together. A work that was bought by the Tate Gallery in London caused immediate uproar with the English people because the bricks were simply arranged into the shape of a rectangle without anything between the bricks to hold it together. This piece was laid out on the floor and would break apart if kicked. Needless to say, this seemed to contradict what sculpture was all about.
Like the other minimalists, Andre was interested in order, constructivism, and predetermined configurations. He began to study the various forms that would take shape using the same number of objects of the same volume and shape. The result was a series of sculptures known as "Equivalents". One of these series is called "Equivalent VIII" (1966) which was comprised of 120 sand lime bricks formed in different combinations. Each final form had an identical volume though their shapes were quite unique.
Without the base or plinth common to traditional sculpture, Andre's work spanned across the floor space, becoming flatter as time went on. Moving from bricks to metal tiles, he then laid out these small metal plates in a rectangular shape on the floor. In 1969, he created "37 Pieces of Work," a piece that stretched across 36 feet both in width and length across the Guggenheim floor. The piece consisted of 1296 tiles made of different metals, which emanated their own unique temperature upon the bare foot.
Like Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, Andre was interested in systems, and applied this interest to sculpture. Working in a manner conceptually similar to some of LeWitt's ideas, he would make sculptures in series by arranging blocks of red wood in all the possible combinations- two blocks in all the different possible positions, then three, etc. He also did this with blocks of granite on their sides.
One of his most interesting and public works is in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. He was commissioned to create a site-specific sculpture on a plot of land in Hartford that was too small for a building or a parking lot, so it became a small park. Here he produced "Stone Field," which consisted of 36 glacial boulders laid out in 8 rows of progressively smaller rocks. He chose boulders because they were typical of New England landscape. He arranged them according to size with the largest as a single boulder at one end of the park and as you moved through the park, each row had more and smaller boulders until you reached a row of the smallest at the other end of the park. Andre's interest in mathematical relationships is again evident in this piece. His childhood memories of the large shipyard boulders and Stonehenge are also apparent here.
There has been some controversy about Carl Andre's work because of the misinterpreted simplicity. To some, his work may be described as just a pile of bricks. Though his work may involve just a pile of bricks, the position given to them is the art. There is a set order that must be followed to fully appreciate his art. His "Stone Field" in Connecticut also raised some controversy among the residents originally. However in time, the residents have become accustomed to it and have learned to appreciate it.
Andre's life also met with controversy in 1985, when his Wife, Ana Mendieta fell to her death from their apartment window. Though details of the case are unclear, Andre was charged with second degree murder, but later aquitted of all charges. Sansationalize journalists of the time called him the "O J of the Art World"**. Andre is still alive and resides in New York City, and his work is shown internationally.
Page author: L.C.