Carl Andre: Mass & Matter
brings together a group of sculptures and poems by one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
Along with his contemporaries Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre
is a leading artist associated with the emergence of Minimalism in the United States in the mid-1960s.
Andre is famous for his sculptures made of ordinary industrial materials which are arranged directly on the floor in simple linear arrangements or grids. By reducing sculpture to its most basic elements and re-orientating it from the vertical to the horizontal plane, Andre helped to redefine the possibilities of sculpture for a whole generation of artists. He is perhaps best known in this country for the 1976 debate surrounding Tate’s acquisition of Equivalent VIII
This exhibition, Andre’s first in a UK public gallery for over ten years
, brings together eight sculptures made between 1967 and 1983, alongside a collection of his typed word poems from the same period. At the heart of the exhibition, and of Andre’s practice, is a concern with materials, which for Andre has always meant the common materials of everyday production – wood, bricks and metals such as aluminium, copper, steel, magnesium and lead. Andre selects standard, commercially available units of these materials for his sculptural arrangements without altering them. He has said, ‘my ambition as an artist is to be the ‘Turner of matter’.
As Turner severed colour from depiction, so I attempt to sever matter from depiction.’
Like other artists associated with Minimalism, Andre is concerned with the character of different materials. He describes wood as ‘the mother of matter’. Bricks are as valid materials for making art for Andre as oil paint or plaster. He considers bricklayers to be ‘people of fine craft’.
Andre’s poetry is based on a similar process of reduction. Individual words and phrases, often taken from pre-existing sources, are arranged on the page according to certain criteria, isolated and freed from all grammar. His poems are as concerned with the visual appearance of words on a page as with the content of the language itself. Although some of his earliest poems were handwritten, most of Andre’s text works from the late 1960s were produced on a manual typewriter, which automatically sets letters down in grid-like rows and columns analogous.
A number of works in the exhibition date from the 1960s - a key period of Andre’s career - such as 4 x 25 Altstadt Rectangle
(1967). Andre has worked with bricks throughout his career and this exhibition includes the more recent 60 x 1 Range Work
(1983), a single line of equilateral bricks placed together to form a triangular prism.Carl Andre: Mass & Matter
will tour to mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art from 14 June until 19 September 2013.
Read about the 1976 'Tate brick debate' here
Carl Andre grew up by the sea and the Quincy of his youth was an industrial city, a centre of shipbuilding, surrounded by abandoned granite quarries. Andre’s father was a marine draughtsman in the shipyards whilst his Swedish grandfather had worked as a bricklayer. Andre himself famously supported himself after moving to New York by working as a freight brakeman on the Pennsylvania railroad between 1960 and 1964, a period he later described as ‘my sculptural finishing school’. His work on the railways involved making up trains and breaking them down, a process which directly influenced his poetry and later his sculptures, both elements of his practice the result of taking identical units (single words or metal plates for example) and arranging them within a self-imposed system of rules, often based on prime numbers or other mathematical principals.
Like other artists associated with minimalism, Andre is concerned with the character of different materials. He has worked with wood, which he has described as ‘the mother of matter’, since his earliest sculptures inspired by Constantin Brancusi, made when he was sharing a studio in New York with the abstract painter Frank Stella. Timber Piece (Well), 1964 (remade in 1970), dates from this period and is composed of 28 identically sized units of red cedar, placed together to form a simple column. In the later Phalanx (1981), 14 cedar blocks are arranged vertically in two ninety-degree rows, the title referring to a body of troops as well as the bones of the fingers and toes in the human body.
Two incidents in Andre’s early life had a profound effect on his development as an artist: the first was a visit to Stonehenge aged nineteen with his uncle, the British broadcaster Raymond Baxter, the experience of which cemented his wish to become a sculptor. The second, in the mid 1960s, was his sudden realisation, whilst out canoeing, that sculpture could be as level as water. From this point on, Andre worked almost exclusively on the horizontal plane, a radical gesture at the time, linked to his ongoing idea of ‘sculpture as place’ rather than the traditional idea of sculpture as forms that are carved or modelled.
A number of works in the exhibition date from this key period of Andre’s career, such as 4 x 25 Altstadt Rectangle (1967), made during the year of his first show at the Dwan Gallery in New York and the inaugural exhibition at Konrad Fisher Galerie in Dusseldorf. A rectangle of over 12 meters in length, made up of 100 steel plates, 4 units across by 25 long, it is one of a larger family of works made from identical sheet-metal units arranged in five different configurations. Like all of Andre’s metal floor pieces, it was designed to be walked on and the particular properties of the metal experienced directly by the viewer.
Perhaps Andre’s most famous group of works are the brick Equivalents series, first shown in 1966: two rows of 120 sand-lime bricks arranged in eight different permutations and placed directly on the floor. For Andre, bricks are as valid materials for making art as oil paint or plaster and bricklayers considered ‘people of fine craft’. Andre has worked with bricks throughout his career and this exhibition includes the more recent 60 x 1 Range Work (1983), a single line of equilateral bricks placed together to form a triangular prism.
Whilst working on the railroad in the early 1960s, Andre made very few sculptures but concentrated instead on poetry. Lesser known than his sculpture, Andre’s poetry is based on a similar process of reduction. Individual words and phrases, often taken from pre-existing sources, are arranged on the page according to certain criteria, isolated and freed from all grammar. The resulting poems are as concerned with the visual appearance of words on a page as with the content of the language itself.
Although some of his earliest poems were handwritten, most of Andre’s text works from the late 1960s were produced on a manual typewriter, which automatically sets letters down in grid-like rows and columns analogous to Andre’s work in three dimensions, or to musical scores designed for vocal performance. Dithyramb (1962), translates an existing text into vertical columns of single words arranged alphabetically and according to the length of individual works. This piece has been loaned to the exhibition by mima in Middlesborough, who recently acquired it for their collection through funds from Art Fund International. Shooting a Script (1975) was Andre’s second novel-length poem, individual sheets of which are also included in the exhibition. Like many of Andre’s text works, it takes a historical event as its starting point, in this case a gunfight in Texas in 1898. From an original text presenting 17 eyewitness accounts of the encounter, Andre’s poem weaves together these disparate voices to evoke the panic and chaos of the original event.
Alastair Sooke, The TelegraphRead here >
Emma Brockes, The GuardianRead here >
'It’s a dense display and feels anything but arid and lifeless'
'It’s wonderful to see how much Andre and Barba so beautifully complement each other'
The artsdeskRead here >
In the lead up to the opening of Carl Andre: Mass & Matter, Rosa Barba: Subject to Constant Change and Turner's Perspective at Turner Contemporary (1 Feb - 6 May 2013), gallery visitors asked questions about each of the artists' work. Some of these questions were answered by Carl Andre, Rosa Barba, and Maurice Davies, an art historian with specialist knowledge of Turner's perspective drawings. Listen to the questions and answers by watching the film below.
Filmed by MLM Learning Design.
Copper, Aluminium, Red and Green - artists and scientists discuss Carl Andre's work
In February 2013 Turner Contemporary held an event, led by Practical Philosopher Ayisha de Lanerolle, for artists and scientists to discuss Carl Andre's* declaration: 'The periodic table of elements is for me what the colour spectrum is for a painter. . . Copper is more profoundly different from aluminium than green is from red'. Multi-award winning animation studio Cognitive Media have created a short animated film 'Copper, Aluminium, Green and Red' representing the ideas that emerged from this discussion.
Watch the film at the bottom of this page.