PRINT Summer 1970

An Interview with Carl Andre

DO YOU MAKE SCULPTURE without a location in mind?

No, because I never work in the abstract to that extent. I never have been the kind of person who, let’s say, works on a drawing, then makes a model, then makes the model larger and larger, and then finally makes a piece. For me, my cliché about myself is that I’m the first of the post-studio artists (that’s probably not true). But my things are conceived in the world. For me, they begin in the world and the world is full of different kinds of spaces, different generic classes of spaces; inside gallery spaces, inside private dwelling spaces, inside museum spaces, inside large public spaces, and outside spaces of various kinds too. There’s always a location in mind, not necessarily a specific one, but, rather, a location in scale.

If you were to remake lost or destroyed works for a museum exhibition, would the new space you were working in necessitate a change in your sculpture?

I think in a situation like that there would be two classes of works to be redone. One of the classes of works is one which I had made proposals for, tried to drum up interest in the art world to get money to do them, and I was never successful. So, that’s one class of works—those never actually executed. Then there is a class of works which I actually did do and which subsequently were destroyed or discarded. Not voluntarily. I don’t mean they were discarded because people didn’t like them; they were discarded because of the peculiar conditions of my life early on in New York. Now, of the first group (that’s two different sets), I would think that the first set is being made for the first time and would have to be looked upon, since they had never existed before, as new works. Then, the second class of works would be works which already did exist and had been destroyed. I would just go out and find materials which were exactly the same and do them again. Now the trouble is not so much that space has changed, but that I have changed. That work which is lost was in what I call my structural phase, when I was still sort of building things with the particles. There might be a temptation on my part to destructuralize them and just use the set of particles, in a way changing them from a structure to what I call a place, which is not based on structural principles. It’s just place-making, let’s say. I don’t feel myself obsessed with the singularity of places. I don’t think spaces are that singular. I think there are generic classes of spaces which you work for and work toward. So it’s not really a problem where a work is going to be in particular. It’s only a problem, in general, of the generic spaces: is it going to be the size of Grand Central Station or is it going to be the size of a small room?

When you refer to place, are you discussing those sculptures whose forms are adjacent and not joined as opposed to the pyramids?

Exactly. To concretize the image, let’s say, in the days of form, people were interested in the Statue of Liberty because of the modeling of Bartholdi and the modeling of the copper sheet that was the form of the Statue of Liberty. Then people came to be interested in structure and they were not interested in Bartholdi’s form anymore. They became interested in Eiffel’s cast iron interior structure: the girders and the cantilevers and the supports; in a sense, taking the copper sheets off the Statue of Liberty and looking at the raw iron or steel that constituted the structure on which the copper plates were hung. Now sculptors aren’t even interested in Eiffel’s structure anymore. They’re interested in Bedloe’s Island and what to do with that. So I think of Bedloe’s Island as a place. I use place in a kind of aphorism that seems to work for me about shifting from form in sculpture to structure in sculpture to what I wound up with as place in sculpture. Now I do not wish to make that aphoristic sequence into a dogma at all. I am trying to describe what happened to me as an artist. I began with form—or woodcutting, essentially—chiseling into timbers after the manner of Brancusi, the Brancusi still very much within the limits of the monolithic life-figure-derived sculpture. Going to Brancusi’s piling of things (pedestals and bases) and also structures (benches and arches and tables like those in Philadelphia); coming to a kind of structural position which was probably new to the 20th century but also was persistent or had existed in neolithic works (Stonehenge and Avebury, etc., of which I have always been a great admirer) which were structural. Then, passing through that into place which was also a neolithic property, I think, in the countryside of southern England, Indian mounds, and things like that (which some people associate with earthworks, but I think it is a mistake to limit it just to an art form). So, this business of form into structure into place just describes what I went through in arriving at where I am now.

When you re-set up a piece, is it altered or re-arranged?

Well, not really either. My first problem has been to find a set of particles, a set of units and then to combine them according to laws which are particular to each particle, rather than a law which is applied to the whole set, like glue or riveting or welding. They are nonstructural combinations of particles and these particles particularly are combined in laws which are no more than the qualities that any one particle might have. No extraneous forces apply to the set to make them have properties which an individual particle does not have. I can find a set of particles which I used ten years ago; from that set of particles I had made something which was satisfactory to me then. But then, let’s say today, I take up the same set of particles again. It’s entirely likely that I would want to combine them in a different way. Now the former piece is not being recovered, it’s not altered. A new piece is being made with the same set of particles. But this is like learning how to use blue. If you used blue once in a painting ten years ago, and then today you use blue again, the way you use blue is probably different now. That’s why I think of a color as the cut of a painter on the color spectrum. My particles are sort of cuts across the mass spectrum in what I call clastic way (plastic is flowing of form and clastic means broken or preexisting parts which can be put together or taken apart without joining or cementing).

How do you determine your arrangements?

My arrangements, I’ve found, are essentially the simplest that I can arrive at, given a material and a place—the least conspicuous I can arrive at. Much of this was following the example of Frank Stella and his early paintings—the black paintings and even earlier stripe paintings; trying to arrive at a compositional solution of painting that did not depend on the kind of drama of placements and centering and off-centering and things like that. So I arrived, certainly through the example and teachings of Frank Stella, at something which I call anaxial symmetry. This is a kind of symmetry in which any one part can replace any other part. That is you might say, the symmetry of the heavens where, as you look at the sky, really there’s no apparent symmetry except that one apparently can replace any single star with any other single star without changing the overall effect. (That’s a rather false analogy. Perhaps a better one would be, let’s say, with the molecules in a glass of water, which in a sense may be said to be symmetrical. You can take any atom of the water and replace it with any other one. This has nothing to do with left or right hand or up or down. It’s central, anaxial, without axis.)

Is movement, as a formal concern, incorporated into your sculpture?

I think all my works have implied, to some degree or another, a spectator moving along them or around them. Even things like my early pyramids, they very much only revealed themselves when you walked around them. This is really a sense of scale—it’s the opposite of coffee-table size sculpture as jewelry. You don’t have to walk around them. You can turn them with your hand or you can grasp the whole thing at once. My idea of a piece of sculpture is a road, That is, a road doesn’t reveal itself at any particular point or from any particular point. Roads appear and disappear. We either have to travel on them or beside them. But we don’t have a single point of view for a road at all, except a moving one, moving along it. Most of my works—certainly the successful ones—have been ones that are in a way causeways—they cause you to make your way along them or around them or to move the spectator over them. They’re like roads, but certainly not fixed point vistas. I think sculpture should have an infinite point of view. There should be no one place nor even a group of places where you should be. Yes, no single point vistas or even several point vistas.

What’s the relationship in your sculpture between scale and the spectator?

I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the only single thing that art has is scale—something which has nothing at all to do with size. It has to do with things being internally consistent with their own parts. Take a sculptor like John Chamberlain, who is certainly one of the great masters of scale—I’ve seen works of his the size of a matchbox which were just perfectly consistent internally in the relationship of the parts. This is not limited to sculpture at all. I think painting has this quality. A great painting has its greatness of scale. You can even talk about scale with things like color, as well as proportion of the parts. In sculpture, there’s quite a concrete relationship between one’s size as a person and/or mass as a person and the mass of a piece of sculpture. Man is the measure of all things because we are men or we are mankind. And we are just absolutely conditioned by the sizes of our bodies and our own pretensions to measure things off, especially material things in the world, by our own size. Of course, I’m thirty-five now. It’s only for twenty years that I’ve had this stature that I have now. For the first ten or twelve years of our life, we don’t at all have the sense of scale we have later on. If you’ve ever returned to a house where you grew up, but hadn’t been in a long time, you suddenly realize that everything is so low to the ground. The doorknobs seem a lot lower than they used to be (and the tables and the chairs) where, once before, everything seemed to be quite over our heads. I would say, yes, we do measure scale according to our own stature. But our sense of our own stature is a much more plastic and sliding thing; it’s not a fixed thing. But we tend to relate back to our own physical mass.

Does walking on your sculpture imply not just traditional tactile perceptions (touching with the hand), but body associations as well?

Not all of my stuff is meant to be walked on. I have to trust a great deal to the tactile tact of the spectator of my work, to understand that walking on steel or aluminum or zinc or lead or copper or whatever it is, is not going to injure it substantially. But, if there was a piece, let’s say, of styrofoam or something like that, walking on it would just put big holes in it with your feet. So, I don’t want, by any means, to give the impression that all my works are intended to be walked on. For those works that are obviously suitable for being walked on, the first thing that I think is most important is being able to stand in the middle of the sculpture: you can in my twelve by twelve foot steel piece. You can stand in the middle of it and you can look straight out and you can’t see that piece of sculpture at all because the limit of your peripheral downward vision is beyond the edge of the sculpture. So you can be in the middle of a sculpture and not see it at all—which is perfectly all right. Most people don’t see it if they arrive in a room and are looking around. They can be standing on the sculpture and they don’t see it—which is perfectly all right. I don’t like works of art which are terribly conspicuous. I like works of art which are invisible if you’re not looking for them. I like this thing about being able to be in the middle of the work. (I don’t mind people touching my sculptures at all, it’s perfectly all right, with the hand.) There are a number of properties which materials have which are conveyed by walking on them: there are things like the sound of a piece of work and its sense of friction, you might say. I even believe that you can get a sense of mass, although this may be nothing but a superstition which I have. But I believe that man is equipped with a subtle sense of detecting differences in mass between materials of similar appearance but with different mass. I don’t think there’s a concrete sense; you can’t name what this sense is. But perhaps it has something to do with the inner ear and balance or something. Nevertheless, I believe that man can almost unconsciously detect differences in mass. Standing in the middle of a square of lead would give you an entirely different sense than standing in the middle of a square of magnesium.

Do you see any relationship between the color of your sculpture and a truth to materials?

I don’t know about that. I just never have been convinced much with painted sculpture. I just don’t have much of an eye for painting in the first place. I always felt just the opposite of that idealized surface. I wanted a surface free to be continually altered by its own history, the events which occurred to it up to the point of absolute obliteration, I suppose. If you leave a steel piece out in the rain and the wind for three hundred years, it would probably rust away. If it did rust away, the grass would probably have a different pattern from where the rust was because of the high iron content in the soil at that place. Nothing ever truly disappears, I think. As to truth to materials, I just like matter a great deal and the different properties of matter, the different forms of matter, different elements, different materials. To paint these things, for me, would be to exactly defeat my own desires as to my art. I don’t want to disguise it at all. I don’t want to make something else out of it, I want wood as wood and steel as steel, aluminum as aluminum, a bale of hay as a bale of hay. That’s not an idea for anyone else, that just reflects my desires as an artist.

How are time and weather taken into account?

You might say that I submit to the properties of my materials out of a kind of reflection of my own temperament. I have avoided trying to create ideal surfaces that had to be maintained. As I’ve said, I wanted to submit to the conditions of the world, such that if works were outside and they rusted, then they would rust. People have asked me, “Won’t that destroy the work?” Of course it will, after three or four hundred years. But I will have long been dead and persons who are now living will long have been dead and the works will survive our lives certainly. This is not even a philosophical condition of mine, it’s a temperamental one. It’s that I wish to submit to the properties of my materials.

Is there a content expressed in your sculptures?

I think art is expressive but it is expressive of that which can be expressed in no other way. Hence, to say that art has meaning is mistaken because then you believe that there is some message that the art is carrying like the telegraph, as Noel Coward said. Yes, art is expressive, but it is expressive of that which can be expressed in no other way. So, it cannot be said to have a meaning which is separable from its existence in the world. No explicit meanings, no, not in mind when I address myself to the work, not at all. What is quite the opposite is that I find that my greatest difficulty and the really most painful and difficult part of my work is draining and ridding my mind of that burden of meanings which I’ve absorbed through the culture—things that seem to have something to do with art but don’t have anything to do with art at all. That’s the one aspect of the term minimal art that I have always prized and I always considered myself, to that extent, a minimal artist. When people talked about minimal art, I didn’t realize that they were talking about sculptures and the work. I thought they were talking about the artists. Because what the idea “minimal art” really means to me is that the person has drained and rid himself of the burden, the cultural over-burden that stands shadowing and eclipsing art. The duty of the artist is to rid himself of that burden. I think it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. I would not say that I have achieved it, because every time you work, you have to do it all over again, to rid yourself of this dross. I suppose for a person who is not an artist or not attempting art, it is not dross, because it is the common exchange of everyday life. But I think art is quite apart from that and you have to really rid yourself of those securities and certainties and assumptions and get down to something which is closer and resembles some kind of blankness. Then one must construct again out of this reduced circumstance. That’s another way, perhaps, of an art poverty; one has to impoverish one’s mind. This is not a repudiation of the past or such things, but it is really getting rid of what I describe as dross.

You don’t consider yourself a conceptual artist, do you?

I am certainly no kind of conceptual artist because the physical existence of my work cannot be separated from the idea of it. That’s why I said I had no art ideas, I only have art desires. To speak of ideas as conceptions in a philosophical sense and then to speak of ideas for art, well that is to speak about two utterly different things. I think what we really mean to do is apply ourselves to the language we use in the most rigorous sense. As Confucius said, when he was asked what he would do if he were made the prime minister of the duchy where he lived, “The first thing I would do is call things by their right names.” This is why I wish to separate myself entirely from any conceptual art or even with ideas in art. My art springs from my desire to have things in the world which would otherwise never be there. By nature, I am a materialist, an admirer of Lucretius. It is exactly these impingements upon our sense of touch and so forth that I’m interested in. The sense of one’s own being in the world confirmed by the existence of things and others in the world. This, to me, is far beyond being as an idea. This is a recognition, a state of being, a state of consciousness—and I don’t wish at all to be portrayed as mystic in that. I don’t think that it’s mystical at all. I think it’s a true awareness that doesn’t have anything to do with mysticism or religion. It has to do with life as opposed to death and a feeling of the true existence of the world in oneself. This is not an idea. An idea is a much lower category on my scale in that awareness, that consciousness.

Was color a principal concern in Lock?

The principal concern in Lock, actually, was poverty. I was asked, very graciously I thought, by the Los Angeles County Art Museum and Maurice Tuchman to do a piece for the Museum. At the time, I had neither the means to get there (Los Angeles) nor did I have any funds for any materials. Virginia Dwan extended to me the funds to go there. I was given a nominal amount of money ($150.00) for materials. So I was confronted with the problem of making a work with an absolutely limited budget. This meant not using metals or stones or anything, but a material that was cheap. That turned out to be chipboard. I did not want to use the bare board itself. So, I painted it. I happened, at that time, to be very fond of this color—I forget whether it’s cerulean blue or cobalt blue (it’s one of the Liquitex acrylic paints). It was always a color that seemed to me to denote objectness for some reason that I don’t know (I think Betty Parsons has a small piece of sculpture of mine which is painted the same color). So, if I hadn’t had the economic problem, I wouldn’t have painted it, because I would have made it out of another material. As I look back on Lock—both the blue one that was in Los Angeles and the black one that was in Philadelphia—they really were as works of sculpture probably miserable failures. But, somehow, we only learn from our failures. It’s also a matter that I have recently had to return myself to, because my materials could become infinitely expensive. Let’s say if I made a twelve foot square piece out of three-eighth inch thick platinum, that is, in effect, an infinitely expensive piece. Now, if I run out of the common materials to use, I’ll just have to confront the problem of having to use infinitely expensive materials—which means I’ll have to give up work or only make very tiny ones. Again, I’m back in the situation I was in in 1966. What do you do to make sculpture without a strong economic factor? I think that has something to do with art povera in Europe. I don’t think they literally think of it as working with the least economic factor, but I found that it’s necessary for me to return to this state and to make sculpture as if I had no resources at all except what I could scavenge or beg or borrow or steal. I don’t think that I would ever again do anything that was like either the black or blue Lock pieces. I later went on and did Lock pieces in Europe which were made of steel, which is probably what I would have done in the first place if I had had the materials. But, nevertheless, I still have to return to the situation of what do I do to make sculpture as if I were broke.

Do you consider your twelve by twelve foot metal plates as flat sculpture?

I don’t think of them as being flat at all. I think, in a sense, that each piece supports a column of air that extends to the top of the atmosphere. They’re zones. I hardly think of them as flat, any more than one would consider a country flat, just because if you look at it on a map it appears flat. Again, obviously, they are flat but, that’s curious, I don’t think of them as being flat.

Was your hay piece an earthwork?

No, I don’t know how anybody else thinks of earthworks but I think of earthworks as being made of earth, earthen, or with, let’s say, rock or broken materials; without a man-impressed form for the materials. The overall shape, of course, is man-impressed, like an earthen dam, but the particles do not have a man-impressed form. A bale of hay is as much of a man-impressed form as a brick or an ingot of steel. So, for me, that was not an earthwork, but just an extended piece of sculpture on the land.

After working with heavy timbers, why did styrofoam interest you?

Everything has an explicit origin, if we only ask the right questions. The styrofoam pieces were originally made for the old Tibor de Nagy Gallery which was, as I remember it, an old townhouse on 72nd Street. The “Shape and Structure” show was the first show I had in New York and it was a group show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. My piece was 28 timbers (one foot square and three feet long). They were assembled in the entrance of the gallery and three days after the show opened, I got a desperate call from Mr. Myers saying, “Carl, come quickly, the floor is collapsing.” So, we went up there and moved the timbers from the weakened floor of the old townhouse to another area of the building which was more secure. But I had to remove the piece. Then, Mr. Myers very graciously asked me if I would do a show in his gallery that spring—in April, I think it was. I said that I would be delighted to. But I was confronted with the problem of volume and mass. I had to find a material which had a very high volume and a very low mass because the structure of the building was so weak. I wanted very much to seize and hold the space of that gallery—not simply fill it, but seize and hold that space. About the same time, a friend of mine was working with foams (urethane foams and styrofoams) and he gave me the address of the place to go to investigate the styrofoam planks. So, I used styrofoam in that show because I wanted large works but they had to be light. Hence, I used styrofoam. But that show was, characteristically, a structural show—probably my last structural work. What happened subsequently was that David Novros had a show at the Park Place Gallery in 1966. He was only using the front room of the gallery and they usually put other works in the back room and he didn’t want any other works in the back room. So he said would you do a work for the back room and I said I would and I still had the styrofoam at that time. I had destructuralized my work and I wanted to use the styrofoam in a way that would become place-generating. So I did a piece that was essentially the same as the one that was in the Whitney Museum “Anti-Illusion” show: where the styrofoam is used to generate a kind of negative place, a place of no access, a plateau as it were. Between 1966 and 1969, the company stopped making white styrofoam. As a result of that, my work at the Whitney Museum was popsicle orange or international orange, as it’s called, and not white. For me, this was an alteration, a condition of the world which relieved me from one painful condition; which was that people kept saying of the white styrofoam, “Oh, it’s so like pentelic marble.” They couldn’t say that about the orange styrofoam. As I said at the beginning, things have practical, explicit origins. There was no doctrine or dogma but the necessities of the conditions I was working under that led me to styrofoam. I have nothing against styrofoam and its lightness is a joy to deal with. I find no contradiction between that and the metals. Reef—reef as a kind of plateau—that’s using very light and essentially fragile materials; it excludes the viewer from occupying the space, whereas the metal pieces, although they are hard, durable and resistant, invite the viewer to join in the space of the piece. So that the works obviously establish different conditions for the spectator and the viewer. When we stand beside the styrofoam pieces, we don’t stand on them. I don’t have great prejudices against materials. I think that the great lesson of the so-called earthwork movement and the art povera direction of art is that now we need have no prejudices about the materials that we use. We should use materials in art which are really appropriate to our ends. Not marble for the sake of marble or bronze for the sake of bronze, but marble where marble is appropriate and dirt where dirt is appropriate.

When did you see your first Brancusi?

It must have been 1957. I had seen photographs before then. My friend Hollis Frampton was an admirer of Ezra Pound who in turn had done studies of - sculpture, especially Gaudier-Brzeska and Brancusi. Very early on, I was taken by Brancusi because the photographs I had seen, of course, had always been the polished pieces and the tops of the pedestals; the birds in space and the Mlle. Poganys and so forth. These had always seemed to be post-Rodin, polishing up Rodin or something. Then I saw them all combined with their earth-driving, entering pedestals that were of an entirely different nature. So Brancusi, to me, is the great link into the earth and the Endless Column is, of course, the absolute culmination of that experience. They reach up and they drive down into the earth with a kind of verticality which is not terminal. Before, that verticality was always terminal: the top of the head and the bottom of the feet were the limits of sculpture. Brancusi’s sculpture continued beyond its vertical limit and beyond its earthbound limit. It drove into the earth. Also, Brancusi used many found materials, not that that’s important. But he used screws from ancient wine presses and beams pretty much unaltered and combined these particles with those particles that were heterogenous (not homogenous). He definitely did combine particles in building up these pedestals which was, for me, the great interest in his work—that those pedestals were the culmination of the materials.

How were you affected by David Smith’s sculpture?

The first show of David Smith’s I saw or certainly the first show I saw of things brought together, was at French and Company. I had seen individual pieces before; I’d seen photographs before. The great thing that impressed me about David Smith’s work in things like the Albany series and the Menand series was their solidity; they weren’t hollow. There could be some which were called drawings in space or whatever, but that didn’t interest me as much as that the individual units were solid. They weren’t too big and they weren’t empty. And I’ve always had a very primitive, infantile love of the solids and the mass, the thing that was the same all the way through. David Smith’s sculptures seemed to have that quality. Of course, we read into the past what we need for the present and that’s what I got from David Smith. It was solids that I was interested in; David Smith was a very solid sculptor. I think, although there have obviously been some American artists influenced directly by Smith, I think it was very difficult for an American to do that, because Smith was such an enormous presence. I think one would require a bit of distance. Perhaps Caro coming from England could come as a stranger into the household, as it were, and really be impressed—and I’m not saying that American artists weren’t impressed with it. Smith represented a great body of work and nobody wanted to do more Smiths because he was still alive at that time. If anyone was going to do more David Smiths, David Smith was going to do them and nobody else. So sculptors looked in other directions because that work was being done. The greatest and the best influences are I think the great negative influences, where a man blocks out a great body of work and for those who come immediately after him, that road is closed to them. They have to find other roads, which is the healthiest thing that could happen. Then the people who come after that, the first generation of followers, can go back to where the master blocked the road and study the thing a little bit more closely. I think that everybody just felt so close and so familiar with David Smith’s work that that’s why nobody followed in that direction.

Phyllis Tuchman