Magazine article Artforum International

Carl Andre

Magazine article Artforum International

Carl Andre

Article excerpt

WE NEVER STOP RELEARNING the significance of certain bodies of work. A remarkable installation on view at the Chinati Foundation demonstrates--or, better, reminds us--how Carl Andre can collapse the distance between almost-nothing and almost-everything.

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Installation is intrinsic to the subliminal power of Andre's sculpture--to the way we not only examine the work but physically engage it--and "Cuts into Space: Sculptures by Carl Andre" (organized by Marianne Stockebrand, until recently the director of Chinati) has been installed with perfect tact. Five works occupy the venue (a converted army barracks, in the form of a rectilinear U, devoted to temporary exhibitions): three installations indoors; one work outside, Chinati Thirteener, 2010, consisting of thirteen rows, each composed often steel plates; and a found-object sculpture of 1963 (The Sign of Immortality, an iron rod with a loop at one end through which a Camel cigarette pack has been stuffed), leaning against an interior wall like a slangy amulet. Chinati Thirteener was commissioned for the courtyard, but the three installations indoors were marched to the gallery spaces with virtually the same degree of discrimination. Those spaces--unornamented and naturally lit through rows of windows--are long, almost corridorlike, and each work corresponds in format: 46 Roaring Forties, 1988, takes the form of two abutting rows of twenty-three one-meter-square steel plates; 35 Timber Line, 1968, a straight line of meter-long timbers placed end to end; and Zinc Ribbon, 1969, a coil that unspools across the floor in a meandering strip of variable length, here approximately thirty feet.

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The three large works inside represent three kinds of "cut." This is the word Andre and others chose, beginning in the mid-1960s, to describe the operation that their work was understood to perform on actual space: a partitioning of the space of the world--a room, an urban lot, a desert floor. At Chinati, the configuration of plates is broad and flat, a cut we walk on; the timber piece, like a narrow ridge, is one we walk beside (or step over); the cursive ribbon, which belongs to the realm of anti-form, is an aleatory cut. Each in its way can be described as both sight line and, physically, site line--that is, as an orthogonal and as a running seam. Composing this review, I found myself turning to list making as a means of description, which seems right for the way in which Stockebrand's installation concisely expresses the iterative, propositional nature of Andre's work. But in the exhibition space, the consecutive account one makes of the three works gradually gives way to the dilating experience of each one on its own terms.

Andre's work is structurally dependent on the grid and the row, as well as the coil, and on the regularity of individual elements--he calls them "particles"--which are always identical in shape and size within a given piece (and which never reach dimensions that would make them too unwieldy for one person to move). The form of the work is determined by the function of the cut, but deeper apprehension depends on acknowledging the work's material qualities--the perceivable weight and variegated surface of the metal or wood and the slight unevenness of fit from one element to the next (even, in the case of a work that invites physical contact, the way plates can be felt to shift beneath one's feet). We don't pointedly address such things so much as we detect them; they represent the work's secondary affect. In identifying Andre's work (as we generally do) with phenomenological encounter, we must square its radicality of form with the degree to which it presents itself almost as pure medium. Then, given the work's material irreducibility, its obvious mass, and its lateral articulation of empty space, we gradually recognize that, finally, it serves as "ground" for what could be its primary subject: the verticality, weight, and equilibrium of the beholder. …

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