On ViewPaula Cooper
January 7 – February 19, 2022
Brilliantly curated, this succinct show of 21 works created between 1972 and 2021 manages to present Carl Andre in three modes. Simultaneously monumental and intimate, these pieces provide a nuanced view of an artist all-too-easily consigned to Minimalism and left there in splendid but intellectually mute isolation. Let’s once and for all set aside the Frank Stella aphorism, “what you see is what you see.” The several Andres on view here are all deeply engaged with metaphysical speculation and not only demand but inspire interpretation.
The first is less familiar: Carl Andre the poet. From 1972, four sheets, all ink on graph paper, show him experimenting in a style reminiscent of Concrete Poetry. Born in the mid-’50s in Brazil and Europe, Concrete Poetry sought to liberate words from their semantic roots and deploy them as elements in a visual context. The Concrete poets were sculptors of language, and that might be the best way to conceive these four pieces. Two, CANROAREOHAREMELT… and FLIP ROCK are visual experiences, hyperbolic versions of typewriter art, while the other two are verbal annotations of geographical locations, so linguistic landscapes or topographies. As in all Concrete Poetry, the blank spaces play as large a role as the words arranged on the page: the silence made visible that precedes and follows inscription. That Andre chose graph paper as his medium is also significant in the sense that these annotations could be rendered at any scale, that the 11 by 8 sheet could also be a billboard.
The words disappear as the visitor steps into the gallery’s main viewing room, where Andre the sculptor reigns, but the visual silence remains. The first object at the viewer’s feet is Limestone Tricel (2009), a rectangular structure composed of 10 pieces of Belgian blue limestone. The rectangle is composed of three units, all surrounding an empty space. As in Eugen Gomringer’s 1950s Concrete poem, “schweigen” (silence), where the word silence surrounds an empty space, Andre’s sculpture is composed of three units, each of which surrounds a void, again silence made visible. At the same time, as with all of Andre’s sculptural works, the viewer here experiences the physical presence of the limestone. So, Andre expresses many things simultaneously: the geometric transformation of stone (nature) into a coherent structure (art), the numerological possibilities of the pieces arranged, and the empty space at the heart of the object. The floor piece, and all the others gathered here, is literally a stepping-stone to spiritual thought.
Manet Post and Lintel (1980) is a propylon, an entry into a mental temple, the place where the human and divine orders converge, composed of three rectangles of Quincy granite. It is a diminutive entryway to a temple of the mind made from stone found in Andre’s hometown. Quincy, Massachusetts then may be a point of departure for Andre, one he commemorates in the local granite, or it may simply be an invitation, a gateway, to Andre’s art. Neither possibility excludes the other, and there are probably more possibilities entailed in this piece named, mysteriously, for Manet. Andre has constructed other works with the same title, some with a threshold that transforms the gateway into a vertical rectangle, all of them reminiscent of Stonehenge, where the aesthetic space of art fuses with the spiritual space of religion.
5VCEDAR5H (2021) is the most recent piece in the show. Composed of 10 rectangular blocks of western red cedar, the monumental structure seeks to link the world above to the world below. It is its own reflecting pool, with each of the five vertical elements recapitulated in the five horizontal elements. It is as if we were in the presence of five avatars of Narcissus, emblems of artistic self-involvement, the origins of art, and in the case of Andre an elegiac swan song about a life dedicated to art.
The third Andre is encased in a long vitrine. This is the Andre of small objects, all eight of which are aids to reflection. 5 Part Over and Under (2016) might be a child’s toy, with three five-inch lower elements below held together by two elements above. A simple structure that again alludes to the relationship between the lower, human world, and the higher divine world. All held together by a unifying force: the artistic will. Small, only about 11 inches long, but terribly complex is Septet Up and Down (2015): seven wedges joined together to form an undulating line of planes and triangles. Here we might see the presence of Brâncuși, an artist the young Andre admired, especially his Infinite Column, an image of infinity. It is also a fitting image of Andre himself, still hard at work in the winter of his life.