New York

Carl Andre

Dwan Gallery

One of the most beautiful exhibitions of the season so far was Carl Andre’s lyrical disposition of three metal “rugs” on the floors of the Dwan Gallery. The materials were flat plates of aluminum (shiny and bright), iron (dull and rusting along the edges) and zinc (less bright than the aluminum, burnished-looking), each twelve inches square. The plates were simply laid side by side, twelve up and twelve across to create three large squares on the floor. In spite of their flatness, the volumes that came into being were utterly convincing, the weight of the plates palpable against the soft rugs of the floor. This weight was the only active principle of the entire sculpture, creating exactly enough tension to keep the work from dissolving in its own passivity. Some such principle seems always to be necessary to keep Andre’s work from slipping over the line into nothingness: in Lever, at the Jewish Museum, it was length; in the splendid installation at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles last year it was the negative “pockets.” Lacking such an active principle, the chipboard Lock at the Los Angeles County Museum’s “American Sculpture of the Sixties” failed to come into existence. (That piece, incidentally, which was painted a royal blue, also demonstrated that color alone, for Andre, cannot be called upon to provide this animating principle.)

Andre’s work cannot easily be placed with the new sculpture of Judd or Bell or Robert Morris. Morris has described the new sculpture as falling within “a continuum between the monument and the ornament,” but Andre’s gravity-bound works seem quite outside these limits, as a floor or a road might be. Morris has also written that “every rigid body is an object,” but Andre’s works are not rigid either, being made up, in the current exhibition, for example, of 144 quite unjoined parts. Nor does the “gestalt” so important to Morris seem especially relevant to Andre. Most “minimal” of artists, Andre’s minimalism is most beside the point.

Nor is it easy to see Andre, as Barbara Rose on occasion has, as a didactic artist. He is a sculptor, like other sculptors, making sculpture he hopes will be admired and enjoyed on the basis of its own intrinsic merits, and no piece seems to be made to take a position or advance an argument. Somewhat like Dan Flavin, the order which Andre imposes on materials is not designed so much to create an object as to create a set of conditions which we experience as art; if those conditions fail to come into being we are not left with a bad work so much as we are with a kind of vacuum, the situation as before.

Andre’s condition of art comes very beautifully into being in the current Dwan exhibition. A lyrical exaltation, pinned down by the solid physicality of the metal volumes, suffuses the gallery spaces, and makes walking about in those spaces and viewing the specific differences and similarities in the three arrangements a deep and a genuine pleasure.

Philip Leider