Carl Andre Life and Art Periods

"My art springs from my desire to have things in the world which would otherwise never be there."

SYNOPSIS

During the 1960s and 1970s, Carl Andre produced a number of sculptures which are now counted among the most innovative of his generation. Along with figures such as Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Eva Hesse and Robert Morris, Andre played a central role in defining the nature of Minimalist Art. His most significant contribution was to distance sculpture from processes of carving, modeling, or constructing, and to make works that simply involved sorting and placing. Before him, few had imagined that sculpture could consist of ordinary, factory-finished raw materials, arranged into straightforward configurations and set directly on the ground. In fact, during the 1960s and 1970s many of his low-lying, segmented works came to redefine for a new generation of artists the very nature of sculpture itself.

KEY IDEAS

Andre is a sculptor who neither carves into substances, nor models forms. His work involves the positioning of raw materials - such as bricks, blocks, ingots, or plates. He uses no fixatives to hold them in place. Andre has suggested that his procedure for building up a sculpture from small, regularly-shaped units is based on "the principle of masonry construction" - like stacking up bricks to build a wall.
Andre claims that his sculpture is an exploration of the properties of matter, and for this reason he has called himself a "matterist." Some people have seen his art as "concept based," as though each piece is merely the realization of an idea. But for Andre, this is mistaken: the characteristics of every unit of material he selects, and the arrangement and position of the sculpture in its environment, forms the substance of his art.
Andre insists on installing all new work in person, and his configurations are always carefully attuned to the scale and proportions of their immediate surroundings. However, once installed, his sculptures can be dismantled and reconstructed in other locations without his direct involvement.
In 1966, Andre began to describe his work as "sculpture as place," a phrase which alludes both to the fact that his sculptures are produced simply by positioning units on the floor, and to their "place generating" properties. Andre defined "place" as "an area within an environment which has been altered in such a way as to make the general environment more conspicuous."
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CARL ANDRE BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Andre has always credited his early upbringing in Quincy, Massachusetts, as having a formative influence on his art. The son of a marine architect of Swedish descent, he grew up in close proximity to the Quincy naval shipyards, which during the Second World War expanded rapidly (at their peak of productivity they employed 32,000 workers). He would later claim that one of his strongest childhood memories had been the sight of the "rusting acres of steel plates" which lay beside the yards "under the rain and sun."

In 1951, at the age of 16, Andre was awarded a scholarship to attend Phillips Academy, the prestigious boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. It was here, under the tutelage of the painters Maud and Patrick Morgan, that he received his only formal art training.

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Early Years

After school, Andre briefly attended Kenyon College in Ohio, but soon dropped out. He spent the next few months working in Quincy, and between 1955 and 1956 he completed his military service at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In 1957 he moved to New York with the intent of devoting more time to writing poetry and making art. Living in Lower Manhattan, his circle of friends included Hollis Frampton and the painter Frank Stella, both of whom had also attended Phillips Academy. Frampton introduced Andre to the poetry and essays of Ezra Pound, and it was through Pound that Andre became increasingly interested in the work of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Stimulated by the Romanian modernist, Andre began to experiment with found blocks of wood, sawing and carving them into simple geometric shapes.

Andre's approach to art-making was strongly influenced by the example of Frank Stella. At the end of the 1950s Stella was gaining increasing recognition for his Black Paintings, a series of works which consisted solely of uniform parallel bands of black enamel paint. Both Frampton and Andre were fascinated by the disciplined, workmanlike manner in which their friend painted: in their mind this was a technique which left little scope for artistry. Andre described Stella's technique as "constructivist" as a means of emphasizing that he built up his work from a combination of "identical, discrete units," and Andre's Pyramid sculptures from 1959 might be considered an important early attempt to produce work in a similar fashion.

It was, however, not through sculpture but with words and text that Andre continued to explore the ramifications of a "constructivist" technique. In fact between 1960 and 1964 Andre made few sculptures. During these years he worked as a freight brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad and had little space or money for producing three-dimensional art. Instead he started to "construct" poems from words or phrases which he judiciously selected from particular texts. He would then write down these fragments, arranging them on the page according to a pre-ordained protocol, such as by word-length, or alphabetically, or following a simple mathematical system. Many of these poems were produced using a typewriter, and since the late 1960s Andre has frequently exhibited the manuscripts of these text-based works alongside his mature sculptures.

Mature Period

Andre was well on his way to 30 before any of his sculptures were exhibited publically, although the relative obscurity he had enjoyed up to that point had afforded him ample time to read and experiment widely. Therefore when opportunities to exhibit did start opening up from 1964 onwards, Andre had already refined a trajectory for his art which would later come to appear impressively coherent. By the mid 1960s he was already well equipped with a startlingly articulate rationale for his work, and it was largely thanks to this that he found himself able to establish his reputation with a level of self-assurance that was breathtaking.

By 1966 Andre had decided that his sculptures would develop no further. He explained to the critic David Bourdon, in Artforum in October 1966, that his very early work could be described as "sculpture as form," since it had involved cutting and shaping materials. After that he had progressed to "sculpture as structure" - a stage in which he produced works not by cutting or shaping, but by stacking up identical units. The three sculptures, Coin, Crib, and Compound (all 1965), made from nine-foot Styrofoam beams that Andre exhibited at the de Nagy Gallery in 1965, might be considered examples of the latter: each work exemplified a different building construction technique. Yet from 1966 onwards, Andre explained that he had dispensed with both form and structure, and that by laying units horizontally along the ground his work became solely the manifestation of "place." In 1967 Andre began to make sculptures using quarter-inch metal plates, and "sculpture as place" became synonymous with work which stretched out horizontally over the plane of the ground.

Since the mid 1960s the underlying premises of Andre's art have remained practically unchanged, inasmuch as the procedure for making the work has not altered. This has meant that Andre's work tends to display a range of distinct characteristics which make it instantly recognizable. For instance, much of his mature sculpture is extremely low-lying, undermining all traditional associations about sculpture's relation to the upright human body. When you stand in front of one of Andre's metal floor-based works, there is no form which "faces" you. Instead you are often permitted to walk over his metal sculptures, and stand in the space where sculptural substance usually resides.

Largely because his work is so low-lying and always presented on the ground, his work can often seem extremely unobtrusive. This is a quality which Andre has also cultivated. He has never been interested in making vast, monumental works which dwarf the viewer. Instead, Andre has often said that he likes to make sculptures which you can be in the same room with, but ignore if you choose to.

However, it would be wrong to imply that there have not been substantial variations in the appearance of his sculpture, and over the years Andre has produced a wide variety of families of works, using many differing materials and configurations. For instance, when he has used thick blocks of cedar, or cubes of granite and limestone, or especially shiny metals, the results can look opulent and grand. Yet on other occasions he has made sculptures from cheap, almost worthless materials, including scavenged objects such as bent, rusty nails, or lengths of plastic tubing. In fact, even sculptures made from the same type of unit can look entirely different depending on how Andre chooses to install them. For example, three plates of copper pushed up against the wall in a shadowy corner of a gallery would look entirely different to thirty-three plates of the same material, laid out into a rectangular formation and set right in the middle of the room. To a casual observer, all Andre's work might look very similar, but Andre wants viewers to slow down and focus on small, subtle differences - and to reflect on these.

In 1969 Andre became closely associated with the New York-based Art Workers' Coalition. The group lobbied the city's major public galleries for increased artists' rights and an end to sexism, racism and oppression within the art world. It was arguably during this period that Andre's eminence among fellow artists and North American and Western European art institutions was at its highest.

However, in 1985 his artistic reputation was severely damaged by a tragic event in his personal life. His then wife, the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, fell to her death from their New York apartment window. Andre was arrested for her murder, and, although he was fully acquitted in 1988, he became a hate figure for those who were close to Mendieta. In their eyes he came to personify many of the oppressive, establishment values against which he and the Art Workers' Coalition had campaigned in the late 1960s.

Carl Andre is married to the artist, Melissa Kretschmer. They live in New York.

LEGACY

From the late 1960s onwards, Andre's art became an important reference point for many subsequent artists both in North America and in Western Europe - largely because he was seen to have reduced sculpture to its essential state. While Andre himself saw this as the end-point of his art, many sculptors (including Richard Serra) took his insights as the starting-point for their own practice, and built up from the principles which Andre had laid down.

Original content written by Alistair Rider
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CARL ANDRE QUOTES

"Art is the exclusion of the unnecessary."

"Settle for nothing less than concrete analysis of concrete situations leading to concrete actions."

"My art will reflect not necessarily conscious politics but the unanalyzed politics of my life."

"...art for art's sake is ridiculous. Art is for the sake of one's needs."

Carl Andre

Carl Andre Influences

Interactive chart with Carl Andre's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound, one of the most important modern poets in America, emphasized images and pithiness over traditional verse structures and rhyme schemes. He was an expatriate and espoused at times controversial political beliefs.

Modern Art Information Ezra Pound
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt was an American abstract artist whose monochromatic canvases show side-by-side rectangles painted in subtle variations of the same color. Very much part of the New York scene in the 1940s, he nonetheless scorned the label and gestural ethos of Abstract Expressionism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Ad Reinhardt
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Robert Morris is an American artist whose early L-beam and column sculptures were key works in Minimalism. His work also includes felt and fabric pieces, performance, body art, and earthworks, often with an emphasis on process and theatricality.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Robert Morris
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian artist working in Paris, was one of the founders of modern sculpture. His abstracted animals, portrait busts, and totem-like figures revolutionized the traditional relationship between the sculpture and its base.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constantin Brancusi
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella is an American artist whose geometric paintings and shaped canvases underscore the idea of the painting as object. A major influence on Minimalism, his iconic works include nested black and white stripes and concentric, angular half-circles in bright colors.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Frank Stella
Hollis Frampton
Hollis Frampton
Hollis Frampton was an American avant-gardist, auteur, photographer, and digital artist. Frampton is widely credited with introducing AbEx-like artistic practices to film, making him a pioneer in the medium of Digital art. He was also close friends with Andre and Frank Stella, introducing both artists to the writings of Ezra Pound.

Modern Art Information Hollis Frampton
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism was the guiding philosophy behind the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and many of his peers in the De Stijl circle. Articulated by Mondrian in 1917-18, the approach stipulates the strict use of only horizontal and vertical lines; the primary colors red, yellow, and blue; and white, gray, and black.

Modern Art Information Neo-Plasticism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constructivism
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Suprematism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Minimalism
Eva Hesse
Eva Hesse
Eva Hesse was a major New York artist whose sculpture, assemblage, and installation brought issues of feminism and the body into Minimalism's formal vocabulary. She is heralded as one of the quintessential Post-Minimalist artists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Eva Hesse
Sol LeWitt
Sol LeWitt
Sol LeWitt was an American artist commonly associated with the Minimalist and Conceptual movements. He rose to prominence in the 1960s with the likes of Rauschenberg, Johns and Stella, and his work was included in the famous 1966 exhibit Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum. LeWitt's art often employed simple geometric forms and archetypal symbols, and he worked in a variety of media but was most interested in the idea behind the artwork.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Sol LeWitt
Donald Judd
Donald Judd
Donald Judd was an early and influential Minimalist artist who made large-scale geometric objects, often of industrial materials and serially arranged on the floor or wall. He helped found the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where many key works of Minimalism are installed.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Donald Judd
Walter de Maria
Walter de Maria
Walter de Maria is an American sculptor, composer and multi-media artist. His works have been characterized as Minimalist, Installation, Land art, Neo-Dada, and Conceptualist. De Maria's best known work is The Lightning Field (1977), consisting of 400 lightning rods situated on a field in New Mexico.

Modern Art Information Walter de Maria
Richard Serra
Richard Serra
Richard Serra is an American Process and Minimalist artist. His sculptures have ranged from hurled drips of molten lead to gigantic steel pieces installed in public places.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Richard Serra
Michael Fried
Michael Fried
Michael Fried is an American art critic and historian who gained acclaim for his ideas on "theatricality" in art. Fried applied this idea to the artistic style Minimalism, which he believed negatively blurred the boundaries between natural art forms and non-art objects.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Michael Fried
Rosalind Krauss
Rosalind Krauss
Rosalind Krauss is an American art critic and philosopher. Originally a disciple of formalist critic Clement Greenberg, Krauss later founded the radicalist journal October, and became an important proponent of postmodern art theory.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Rosalind Krauss
Leon Golub
Leon Golub
Leon Golub was a twentieth-century American painter and the husband of artist Nancy Spero. While Golub's paintings were mostly figural, his subjects often evoked a sculptural quality reminiscent of Ancient Greek and Roman techniques. The artist's later work assumed the characteristics of Neo-Expressionism, which gained favor in the 1980s.

Modern Art Information Leon Golub
Nancy Spero
Nancy Spero
Nancy Spero was an American painter, printmaker and collagist, and the wife of artist Leon Golub. Renowned for her unwavering political beliefs and for being an early feminist activist, Spero believed that her art and politics were inseparable.

Modern Art Information Nancy Spero
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Conceptual Art
Landscape Architecture
Landscape Architecture
Lanscape Architecture refers to the design and manipulation of physical outdoor spaces intended for public use. Practitioners of landscape architecture often set out to affect socio-behavioral characteristics by altering the natural environment, or in some cases infusing it with outside elements, as found in Earth/Land art.

Modern Art Information Landscape Architecture
Land Art
Land Art
Land art, or Earth art, a term coined by artist Robert Smithson, refers to artworks from the 1960s and '70s that employed land and other natural elements. It is typical of a time when artists rejected the traditional art object, expanded definitions of sculpture, and sought to move art outside the conventional art world structure of galleries and museums.

Modern Art Information Land Art
Post-Minimalism
Post-Minimalism
Post-Minimalism refers to a range of art practices that emerged in the wake of Minimalism in the late 1960s, such as Body art, Performance, Process art, Site-Specific art, and aspects of Conceptual art. Some artists created art objects that do not have the representational function of traditional sculpture, objects that often have a strong material presence; others reacted against Minimalism's impersonality, and reintroduced emotionally expressive qualities.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Minimalism
Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin was an American artist best known for his Minimalist constructions of color and light. Often using nothing more than a few dozen fluorescent bulbs for his work, Flavin was a crucial figure in the Minimalism of the 1960s and '70s. His light installations altered the physical exhibition space, and were designed as experiential art rather than visual art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Dan Flavin
Melissa Kretschmer
Melissa Kretschmer
Melissa Kretschmer is an American artist whose Minimalist-inspired, largely geometric works blur the line between painting and sculpture, often drawing on the natural colors of materials such as glass, graphite, beeswax and wood. She is also known for her film work.

Modern Art Information Melissa Kretschmer
Cedar Piece
Carl Andre: Cedar Piece
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Title: Cedar Piece (1959 (destroyed), remade 1964)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Andre recreated this sculpture for the exhibition "Nine Young Artists" at the Hudson River Museum in 1964, and it became the first work of his to be exhibited in public. It consists of equal lengths of standard lumber, into which he has cut simple woodworker's joints so that the sculpture can be slotted together, and then detached for the purposes of portability. The initial version dates from 1959 when he was in close contact with Stella and was observing Stella complete his paintings using repeated, even brushstrokes. Cedar Piece can be understood as Andre's early attempt to construct sculpture in a similar fashion, also by building up a form from identical units. Andre liked this approach because once he had established the initial premise, he did not have to make any further decisions about the formal composition of the sculpture. In fact, it could be argued that the sculpture composes itself, in that the shape of the St Andrews cross formed by the ends of the beams results from the regular positioning of the joints.


Cedar - Oeffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Switzerland

Equivalent I-VIII
Carl Andre: Equivalent I-VIII
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Title: Equivalent I-VIII (1966)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Andre frequently works in series, producing an entire exhibition of sculptures from different arrangements of the same material, as he did for his influential exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York in 1966. Here, each work consists of an equivalent number of white sand-lime bricks (120), although the eight stacks are all arranged according to a different rectangular formation. These eight sculptures are arguably the first sculptures that clearly demonstrate Andre's definition of "sculpture as place." By spreading out the bricks over the floor of the gallery, Andre wanted to generate a sense of extreme horizontality, reminiscent of the level of water. This led him to consider the layer of space between the sculptures to be just as substantial as the bricks themselves, and to emphasise this feature of the sculpture he coined the aphorism: "a thing is a hole in a thing it is not." However, at the end of the exhibition this feature of the installation was lost, because each sculpture was sold individually. Perhaps for this reason Andre remade a version of this work in 1995 called Sand-Lime Instar, in which the entire installation is considered a single sculpture.


Sand-lime bricks - Different Museums and Private Collections

Spill (Scatter Piece)
Carl Andre: Spill (Scatter Piece)
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Title: Spill (Scatter Piece) (1966)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Andre has always claimed that he looks to the properties of an individual unit or module to determine how it should be combined with others, and since these small plastic counters were too light and too small to be set down one by one like tiles in a mosaic, he decided merely to empty a canvas bag of them over the floor. This work became extremely important for defining "process art", a term which artists and critics used in the late 1960s to distinguish recent works which did not seem to fit with definitions of Minimal art. Minimalism was often associated with sculptures which had rigid, clearly defined geometric forms, and yet artists were increasingly producing objects which appeared simply to have been scattered, or dropped, or were made from materials which had no fixed shape. These sculptures were consequently described in terms of "process," as a way of highlighting that the procedure deployed for the construction of the piece was more important than the finished form.


Plastic blocks and canvas bag - Kimiko and John Powers

144 Aluminum Square
Carl Andre: 144 Aluminum Square
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Title: 144 Aluminum Square (1967)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Andre once claimed that the "periodic table of elements is for me what the color spectrum is for a painter," and many of the materials which he uses for his sculptures are pure elements selected from the table. Andre first exhibited 144 Aluminum Square alongside identically-proportioned sculptures in steel (which actually is an iron alloy and not an element) and zinc. Visitors were encouraged to walk over the plates and compare the different physical properties of the three metals.


Aluminum - Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, California

37th Piece of Work
Carl Andre: 37th Piece of Work
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Title: 37th Piece of Work (1969)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Initially installed in 1970 at the Guggenheim Museum for his first solo exhibition in a public museum in the United States, this sculpture is very much a museum piece. It includes the six most commonly-used metals from the periodic table, each of which is paired with another, according to all thirty-six possible combinations. In total the work consists of 1296 individual plates.


Aluminium, copper, steel, lead, magnesium and zinc - Collection Fran├žois Pinault, Venezia, Italy

Stone Field Sculpture
Carl Andre: Stone Field Sculpture
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Title: Stone Field Sculpture (1977)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This is Andre's only permanent public sculpture: it is sited in downtown Hartford, close to the Wadsworth Atheneum on a narrow, nondescript strip of grass between Center Church and its accompanying burial ground, and Gold Street. The work consists of thirty-six immense boulders, which were dug up at a local gravel pit and had been discarded by the quarry owners. Andre placed the largest stone (which weighs eleven tons) at the apex of the triangular plot, then set down the next two in a row running across the site, then the next three, continuing incrementally up to the eighth row, which is comprised of the smallest stones. While the sculpture is typical of Andre's fascination with sorting and arranging objects, it can also be read as a subtle meditation on the contrast between geological and human time.


Screen print on paper mounted on Sintra with hand painting - City of Hartford, Connecticut

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.