Gathered in this retrospective are fifty years of artistic output that trace the evolution and adamant commitment of one of the most radical and egalitarian proponents of art in the twentieth century. Carl Andre redefined the parameters of sculpture and poetry through his use of unaltered industrial materials and irreverent approach to language. Along the way he created over two thousand sculptures and an equal number of poems, plus dozens of furtive objects and hundreds of postcards, all stamped by an uncompromised affirmation of the history that accrues and binds both materials and words. Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958–2010 is the first retrospective to consider the full spectrum of his art. Organized along a loose chronology to construct modes of looking, the exhibition unfolds over six galleries and is grouped into three parts: sculpture, poetry, and his unclassifiable productions, from the enigmatic assemblages known as Dada Forgeries to his wide-ranging ephemera. The relation to the notion of the “unaltered,” whether manifested in his use of standardized units
or basic words, constitutes the basis of Andre’s emphasis on the substance of matter and his final pronouncement of “sculpture as place” as the decisive consideration of the medium. Andre’s understanding of such distinction opens up an unambiguous and affirmative experience of art, one that restores validity to the analytical impulses as much as to the sensorial and permits an entry into a “place” of liberties.
Upon arriving in New York City in 1957, Carl Andre tested his creativity in writing, and an interest in drawing and sculpture rapidly followed. His first works, tabletop geometric constructions, were made primarily from wood, but he soon identified the limitations of his own craftsmanship and became intrigued by the inherent properties of manufactured materials—their form, weight, and surface. In a span of six years, from 1958 through 1964, Andre would vacate the residues of the artist’s hand from his sculptures, which before this time he had made by chiseling and cutting with power tools to render slender pillars from single planks or stacks that rise from the ground to his own height. At the same time, accompanied by his avid intellect, a deep affection for poetry, and commitment to leftist politics, Andre would sharpen his questions and clarify his understanding of sculpture by making the typewriter his studio. In the 1960s, he generated over thirteen hundred pages of poems, in a monumental reflection that called attention to the subtle intertwining of materials and the English language. In his own words: “Art is not only the investment of creative energy, but the sharpening of the critical faculties. . . . I think art is truly an open set. There are no ideal forms to strive for nor hierarchies to obtain to. Things have qualities. Perceive the qualities.”
At the outset of Andre’s explorations with both writing and sculpting the question became not whether scavenging from the streets for materials or extracting words from a book enacted a new and copious stance for originality, or whether the anonymity of the machine-made units or the typewritten text accounted for the juncture of instrument and instinct. It was rather that through thinking about the materiality of sculpting and writing, the form of language and matter, the artist operates within a historical development, providentially decodes and proposes a reading of present conditions, and ultimately shifts art into a realm of experience. The discovery of this examination proved to be a defining event in Andre’s unorthodox probing with sculpture and poetry and led him to devise a notion of “place” that is charged with utopian energy and an invigorating understanding of art as a viewpoint into reality. It is the conjunction of these two modes of creation, the placement of materials and words, that is the root of Andre’s reciprocal relationship to place, where we may recognize our presence and “perceive the qualities.”
Yasmil Raymond, Curator, Dia Art Foundation