PRINT Summer 2013


CARL ANDRE’s abstract sculptures helped define Minimalism in the 1960s. Yet his monumental oeuvre of poetry, no less pioneering and prolific, has remained obscure. Now two forthcoming projects promise to reassess the artist’s practice in all its material and conceptual complexity: Tate Publishing is compiling a comprehensive catalogue of Andre’s poetry works from 1957 to 2000, edited by curator GAVIN DELAHUNTY; and a major retrospective of the artist’s work opens next spring at Dia:Beacon. In anticipation of these landmark events, Artforum has assembled twelve poems by Andre, published here for the first time. Introducing this exclusive portfolio in the pages that follow, Delahunty argues for language’s primary role throughout the artist’s six-decade career, offering new terms by which we may understand the radical innovation and narrative experiment of Andre’s poetic enterprise.

ALTHOUGH CARL ANDRE is best known for laconic things—obdurate sculptures made of metal or bricks, laid flat on the floor in symmetrical configurations—he has also made an art of words. Indeed, Andre is a prolific poet, and his poems have always played a crucial part in his work, their brilliant investigations of text and pattern making their way into exhibitions, extremely rare editions, and citations. Yet the poems remain largely unseen and unspoken to this day.

For his written contribution to the catalogue for Kynaston McShine’s now iconic exhibition “Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors” held at the Jewish Museum in 1966, Andre submitted Leverwords, 1966, a poem of four stanzas on a single page. The work is composed exclusively of four-letter nouns, paratactically arranged in a format suggestive of Lever, 1966, the sculpture he was exhibiting in the show: The multiple-word composition, beginning with “beam” and ending with “room,” was in part a response to the 137 firebricks extending from the gallery wall, thereby proposing a way to “read” Lever.1

The presentation of Leverwords in this context announced the importance of poetry within Andre’s practice. But it also diverted the discussion of his poems away from their relationship with contemporaneous experimental literature and toward enduring comparisons with his sculpture. It wasn’t until “Carl Andre: Seven Books” at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, in 1973 that the true extent of Andre’s commitment to poetry was acknowledged. The ICA show inspired the first retrospective of his poems at Modern Art Oxford in the UK in 1975, an exhibition later echoed by shows at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Cologne, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam between 1993 and 1994; a permanent display of Andre’s poetry at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, was assembled around the same time. In recent years we have seen noteworthy presentations of the poems at various galleries and independent institutions in Europe and the US, and yet a complete account of Andre’s catalogue of more than one thousand poems has yet to be assembled.

In these previous exhibitions, the emphasis has been on the correspondence between the poems’ layout and Andre’s sculptural configurations. This interpretation was set early on by a number of critics who identified connections between both kinds of work, including seriality, geometry, self-referentiality (particularly to material), and the use of the whole space (whether room or page). Of the rolling verses in one hundred sonnets (I flowers), 1963, Chinati’s associate director Rob Weiner notes that “the repetition of single words commands the page by forming a sequence of fields directly related to the ‘places’ created in Andre’s metal floor work.”2 In the most recent monograph on the artist, Alistair Rider’s thorough and illuminating Carl Andre: Things in Their Elements (2011), there is an admirable attempt to consider the poems on their own terms, with two of the twelve chapters dedicated to their examination. But the poems’ inclusion in a book dominated by Andre’s significant contribution to sculpture only reinforces the sense that their analysis is impossible without recourse to his three-dimensional oeuvre. Andre himself has remained resolutely ambiguous about the relationship between these two strands of his practice while drawing parallels between their processes of production, graphically stating that he “used the typewriter as a machine or lathe or saw, to apply letters on the page.”3 This ostensibly innocuous juxtaposition has forestalled discussion or analysis of the poems beyond a visual arts context, effectively silencing their poetic voice.

NEVER PUBLISHED BEFORE, the twelve poems presented here will be a revelation to many.4 Spanning a period from Q U E E N S B R I D E Q U E E N S B R I D, 1958, to TTTTTHHHHHEEEEEHHHHHOOOOONNNNNOOOOORRRRRAAAAABBBBB (a page from STILLANOVEL), 1972, the dozen have been chosen to introduce another as-yet-unmapped aspect of Andre’s poems—their relationship to poetry itself.

Concrete poetry is an undeniable touchstone for Andre. Several of the poems in this portfolio, including g, 1958, and wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc, 1962, both anticipate and reflect work by artists such as Henri Chopin, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Eugen Gomringer, and Dom Sylvester Houédard, particularly in their use of the spatial parameters of the standardized page. We might also trace a number of visual and conceptual intersections with the work of non-Western practitioners such as the Argentinean artist León Ferrari, the influential Noigandres group of Brazil, or the late Japanese poet Niikuni Seiichi: All were absorbed with poetry that explored a communication of forms rather than the traditional transfer of context and narrative. However, Andre’s poems do not share concrete poetry’s frequent use of a wide variety of different typefaces and font sizes. Unless handwritten, the artist’s texts are made with either a Royal or an Olympia typewriter, forcing a uniform typestyle. And they are infused with complex historical, political, and personal narratives, in great contrast to Minimalism’s often stoic remove. In other words, they are not—or are not just—abstract visual poems following Stéphane Mallarmé’s model. Andre’s poems exist in a tantalizing space somewhere between the established categories and forms of poetry and those of sculpture; as such, their status remains uncertain.

The selection in these pages demonstrates the astonishing diversity of poetic form throughout Andre’s practice, from the relatively straightforward five-line stanzas of (1859), 1963, to the more experimental, postlinear poems CITY OSTRICHES FOREHEAD, 1972, and b l u e, 1959, which disperse letters and words around the page, emphasizing pattern and calling typographic alignment into question. One of the most productive tensions in these works’ ambiguous status is their relationship to the semiotics of language, which in turn draws our attention to poetic voice—here, despite a deconstructed syntax, we find a surprising emotive range, from impassioned and generous to melancholic. Andre explores humor in the word list VISAS, 1960; tragedy in the cento-inspired patchwork D I R G E O N M O N T E Z U M A S L O W L Y, 1964; and religiosity in the epic TRIUMPHAL ENTRY OF CHRIST INTO JERUSALEM, 1964, which when analyzed reveals itself to be a comprehensive description of the biblical scene. In this rhythmic incantation the words stutter and resound, insisting upon the sonority of the spoken word. The works evoke a tradition spanning the twentieth century through our present moment, bringing to mind the poets Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Charles Olson, and Susan Howe. Andre simultaneously embodies and resists this poetic inheritance, ultimately creating an ars poetica of his own.

Gavin Delahunty is head of exhibitions and displays at Tate Liverpool.


1. Robert Smithson once noted that while we find ourselves “looking” at Andre’s poems, his sculptures are things we also “read.” Robert Smithson, “The Artist as Site-Seer; or a Dintorphic Essay” (1966–67) in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 345n47.

2. “On Carl Andre’s Poems,” Rob Weiner, Chinati Foundation, accessed May 16, 2013,

3. James Meyer, ed., Cuts: Texts 1959–2004 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 212.

4. Two of the poems appeared in small-edition artist’s books: TTTTTHHHHHEEEEEHHHHHOOOOONNNNNOOOOORRRRRAAAAABBBBB in STILLANOVEL, 1972, and TRIUMPHAL ENTRY OF CHRIST INTO JERUSALEM in Lyrics and Odes, 1969.