Carl Andre

Galleria Primo Piano

This show marked Carl Andre’s return to the Rome gallery scene after an absence of some years, and in it he showed a single sculpture, Massicciata, 1984. It is his first work in travertine, a common stone in the architecture and sculpture of this city, to which he thus seemed to pay homage. A visit by Andre to Tivoli, not far from Rome, provided inspiration for the piece; the road to Tivoli passes by several travertine quarries, and in one of these the sculpture was realized. Travertine is distinctive in that it is both hard and porous; it has a ridged, irregular surface, pocked with veinlike passages. While its appearance is neutral, it has a warm quality. This is the stone that gives Rome its particular color, as its atmosphere and light are refracted by the ancient buildings.

Massicciata consists of 20 bricks, each ca. 19 1/2 by 7 3/4 by 9 3/4 inches. The overall measurements are ca. 19 1/2 inches by 3 feet by 9 feet, 9 inches. The proportions are the same as those Andre used recently in a piece realized in Germany and France, a piece whose dimensions were dictated by the size of prefabricated blocks of cement. The cement was quite porous, making it light and easy to move, but also quite fragile. This experiment with travertine gave Andre an opportunity to achieve a more solid structure, if inevitably a heavier one.

The travertine bricks rest on the floor in a kind of modular grid. Some are vertical, some horizontal lying flat, some horizontal lying on their sides. The multiplication of the units and the geometrical unities create a spatial sequence of calm rhythms which can be seen in terms of Renaissance architectural order. A progression of interrupted squares is defined; in this installation it lead inward to the gallery’s smaller room. The space thus became a container, a vital part of the dialogue between artwork and observer. The frontal view one gained as one entered the room gave the sculpture a monumental feeling—this was something sacred, hieratic. On closer examination one could perceive the work in greater detail, appreciating the internal relationships, the combinatory structure, and finally the quality of the material. Ones first impressions were disavowed; the hieratic effect gave way to a perception of the structural fabric of the piece. Once again, Andre had skillfully created an equilibrium between solid (massive form and geometrical design) and void (the field left open, in which the spectator might mentally construct unrealized combinatory figures). The result was a play between appearance and transparency, a play which was not rigidly dictated, but which was maddeningly allusive.

This sort of mental trick has long been Andres forte. Here, as in earlier pieces like Equivalents, 1966, and Cuts, 1967, he refused to limit himself to the articulation of a basic module in all its possible combinations; rather, he caused those articulations to interact with their own opposites, solid with void. One had to absorb the work slowly; it seemed to impose itself and fade, articulate and negate. It is significant that the final link in the geometric chain was left open, so that the sculpture opened itself up to possibilities of growth, to expansion beyond its preset design. From a silent, closed work, it became a work in progress. Andre thus further reinforced the dialogue of positive and negative within the work, belying our expectations and our most deeply ingrained visual habits.

Ida Panicelli