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Cedar Beams, Stacks, Steel, Alloy Planes, and Paintings: Carl Andre in His Time at Mnuchin Gallery

  Installation view, Carl Andre In His Time, Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photo Tom Powel Imaging.
 

“Carl Andre in His Time,” Mnuchin Gallery

(September 9 – December 5, 2015)

By ROBERT C. MORGAN, OCT. 2015 

         After my initial viewing of Carl Andre in His Time at Mnuchin Gallery, I had a flashback of driving from Boston to the Phillips Academy in Andover one Sunday afternoon in 1973 to see an installation by the Minimal sculpture Carl Andre, titled Six Alloy Planes. The term “installation” was not used in those days to identify a specific artwork.  Rather it referred to the presentation of a group of works, i.e. the way an exhibition of paintings was hung or the angle at which a sculpture was placed in the gallery. In the case of Andre – who has earlier studied at this New England preparatory school along with Frank Stella and the experimental film-maker, Hollis Frampton – each of the Six Alloy Planes consisted of thirty-six 12 inch dye-cut metal squares arranged in a square format. The six planes were shown directly on the floor in groups of three, each with two planes shown side by side, or, when seen from another angle, two groups of three equidistant planes. Each of the thirty-six squares within a plane alternated between two alloys, such as steel and copper, zinc and titanium, aluminum and lead. Viewers were encouraged to remove footwear and to walk on the planes so as to feel the varied temperatures of each combination of alloys.

Installation view, Carl Andre In His Time, Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photo Tom Powel Imaging. 

         Having recently lectured on “Precision in Form” in Europe, I would have to say Andre’s allegiance to precision applies to virtually all the alloy floor pieces and cedar beams currently on view in the current exhibition. One comment worth stating at the outset of my response to this exhibition is that without precision, there would be no sculpture, at least not for Andre.  His materials are, more or less, “ready-mades,” ordered and/or fabricated at industrial sites. I use the term “ready-made” less in the Duchampian sense, than in the everyday commercial sense. Andre’s materials are consistent. They include the dye-cut metal squares, the cut cedar beams, and the sand-lime bricks.  His vision as an artist is what determines a unique modularity and uniform placement for these materials. More specifically, Andre’s focus is on a mathematical relationship between predetermined sets of modular forms that connect through their placement to established angles within a given space. His work is as conceptual as it is physical. Both modalities are coexistent in the process by which he works. Andre might be seen as a kind of interlocutor between the philosophies of Kierkegaard and Hegel.  Andre’s precision is paradoxically related to doubt as a source of realization (as in Kierkegaard), whereas Hegel’s synthesis is less the grand finale of an idea than an aesthetic attribution in terms of how ideas are formulated and then applied to a material system.  

         There is a clear anti-monumental aspect to Andre’s work in the sense that he rejects the phallocratic notion of sculpture in favor of gravity or the potential of being in the everyday world. His sculpture is not intended to soar into space.  Rather his planes are put solidly on the ground. They enlist our attention and our presence in relation to the force of gravity.  We belong to these works as much as they belong to us.  Their neutrality as they are situated in the space of the ground, including the viewers’ inert perspectival relationship to the calculated mathematical arrangements of these materials, offers a momentum of perceptual involvement close to Andre’s works, an ineluctable elegance of sorts. To accompany the sculpture of Andre, the show includes a selection of works, mostly painters, by major American artists emanating from the historic moment at which Minimal Art encountered a significant reception, primarily in Europe (where Andre’s work is still given its greatest support). To read the importance of Andre’s work semantically in relation to the new forms created by Stella, Ryman, Mangold, LeWitt, Flavin, Judd, Chamberlain, Marden, and especially, Agnes Martin, confirms the Minimal affect and distillation of form as a comparable asset to that of Cubism, particularly at the outset of Modernism.

Installation view, Carl Andre In His Time, Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photo Tom Powel Imaging. 

         The importance of this exhibition reveals the depth of Andre’s effort during the period of the sixties and seventies when assumptions about form were being put to the test, when a new language of art began to arise from the use of new materials, such as the Western red Cedar used in CRUX (1978), one of the key works by Andre in the show along with the two major alloys planes, such as the early 64 Zinc Square and the 100 Copper Square (both from 1968).  In all cases, the refinement of materials in relation to proportion and measurement offer the pulse of his work without loosing the focus of his rarified approach to sculpture.

         Another aspect of Andre’s work that gives it continuing importance and a central position is the strength of ideas related to constructivist history.  Andre’s sculpture has literally reinvented that historical dialogue in understated terms. The work of Andre has evolved over time. It has been less involved with the self-indulgence of visual culture than with formulating a clear sense of purpose that surpasses the frustration of negation so prevalent in American art today. Andre’s work offers a vision of what art can be through the insight to understand material as a direct extension of thought, calculation, and precision. WM


Installation view, Carl Andre In His Time, Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photo Tom Powel Imaging. 

Installation view, Carl Andre In His Time, Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photo Tom Powel Imaging. 

Installation view, Carl Andre In His Time, Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photo Tom Powel Imaging. 


Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is an internationally renowned art critic, curator, artist, writer, art historian, poet, and lecturer. He holds an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1975), and a Ph.D. in contemporary art history from the School of Education, New York University (1978). Dr. Morgan lives in New York, where he lectures at the School of Visual Arts and is Adjunct Professor in the graduate fine arts department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He is Professor Emeritus in Art History from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Photo: Babak Mehrbany Irany

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