Carl Andre (1935- )
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 of art.