New York

Carl Andre

For some time I have disliked Carl Andre’s work. His poems seem fifty or sixty years out of date and his “operas,” as I have already said, like high school versions of Four Saints in Three Acts. I find internal faults, mostly in his earlier works, and while so much is made of his concern with the Brancusian “Problem of the Base,” he has not, to my mind, always solved it. (To make the top part of a thing exactly like the bottom part doesn’t solve it, it evades it, because then the top, while the same size, just looks a little less dense, gawkier and quite a bit less useful. Very rarely are interdependent architectural parts satisfactory objects in isolation. Andre reminds me of the man who, when Penn Station was first threatened, couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t do to just put the columns in a row in some park.) Then there is the continual reference to biography. How many more articles and catalogs (this one has a bibliography of 123 items for a man 35 years old) will expect us to be snowed by the tweedy vision of an Andover man working on the railroad?

Nevertheless, I am starting to dig his sculpture, which is what counts. I don’t like some of the talk about it (if a work of art can only thrive in one place, once, that is a disadvantage, not a breakthrough; also, why generate a need for a lot of boring art historical scholarship—“first state,” “second state,” “reconstructed,” etc.)? And a remark like “I realized the wood was better before I cut it than after. I did not improve it in any way” (catalog, p. 8) is comic at the expense of its own poignancy. But I am getting to like the later sculpture. In the 144 plates pieces, for instance, there is a marvelous, even mystic, contemplative poise which reveals wonderful things about the beauty of materials. Lead and zinc, in particular, have their sphinx-like, dull “OM” laid bare. In the largest piece, 37 Pieces of Work (1969), which reminds me of Albers in his Pan Am mural, one-foot squares of aluminum, copper, steel, lead, magnesium, and zinc form larger squares which line up and appear somehow to interpenetrate within its overall, ultimate, square form. The result is a sort of metallurgical pointillism, an optical alloy in which elements—real chemical elements in fact—lay their differences aside and accord with the symmetry of the periodic table.

Joseph Masheck