New York

André Cadere

MoMA PS1

Three short documentary films by Sarkis, Ida Biard, and David Ebony, comprise the heart of André Cadere’s retrospective. Without the evidence supplied by these films, and the photographs, letters, and caricatures attributed to the Belgian artist Jacques Charlier also included in the exhibition, the dozens of colored rods on display at P.S. I would have remained enigmatic baubles or, even worse, would have been mistaken for Minimalist sculptures. The status of these objects as instruments allied to a truly unique critical practice rather than “works” in a traditional sense, would have been entirely obscured. The first film, 1972, records the artist in the process of painting segments of walls or rails in the 16th arrondissement of Paris with an airbrush, and later on the scaffolding of the future Centre Georges Pompidou. The other two, dated 1974 and 1976 respectively, show Cadere armed with one of his rods. In the first he walks the Avenue Gobelins in Paris, and in the second he visits a gallery on West Broadway in New York. This, in effect, sums up Cadere’s practice: he walks the street or, better, in the places reserved for art—galleries, museums, etc.—with a stick made of colored segments.

Cadere arrived in Paris in 1967, at the time of the first Minimalist and Conceptual exhibitions. Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michael Parmentier, and Niele Toroni had just begun to promote the initials B.M.P.T. Cadere needed only a few months to catch up with the international avant-garde. Judging from some of the examples gathered in the opening room of the exhibition, his early works reveal a more or less minimalist disposition and a taste for bright colors. Painting a table, for example, could result in a very decorative geometric abstraction, but he was not content with hanging it on the wall; he laid it on the floor like Carl André’s tiles. Very quickly, however, these forms became increasingly simplified until they were reduced to exiguous rings, prefiguring the future rods.

It was in 1970 that Cadere took the decisive step. In order to be done with the alienating conventions of the gallery and the museum, his art became portable, affecting the form of the pilgrim’s staff. Made of cylindrical segments in simple dimensions (length = diameter) the round bar obeyed a system limited to various combinations of eight colors. In each case, an error disturbs the systemic permutation of colors and thus each rod is unique. Even if it was inevitable that the ambulatory exhibition would not be identified as art by the public at large, at least the appearance of Cadere strolling down the street was guaranteed to provoke a noticeable disturbance in the everyday scene. Of course, the art opening was Cadere’s ideal vehicle. His multicolored staffs were all that was needed in most cases to introduce a spectacular disturbance, especially if he sent out announcement cards in advance stating that he would be exhibiting within the context of a particular opening. The parasitic nature of Cadere’s practice garnered him many rebuffs. The bars of round wood that survive 12 years after the death of the peripatetic artist remain a testimonial to an artistic attitude that is at once confrontational and intransigent, because, after all, it depended on the context in which it was introduced.

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.