André Cadere

ACCORDING TO ONE of modern art’s favorite legends, Constantin Brancusi arrived in the City of Light in 1904 on foot, having walked most of the way from Munich, his first stop after leaving Romania the year before. This is the kind of story that impressed curator Harald Szeemann, as it perfectly fitted his shamanistic idea of the artist as bearer of a personal mythology. Indeed, the anecdote must have been on Szeemann’s mind when he decided to include the Romanian artist André Cadere in his Documenta 5, in 1972, but only under the condition that the artist arrive on foot—and carry his signature striped rod all the way. Cadere accepted the invitation, but faked the performance Marcheur de Cassel (The Kassel Wanderer), sending postcards to the Documenta office that seemingly logged a trek through France and Germany before announcing that he would in fact be arriving from Paris by train. Szeemann was in no way pleased and officially excluded the artist from the exhibition, and so Cadere’s first appearance on the international stage turned into a real fight. Cadere made it clear that he thought the curator’s ideas were stupid mystifications, but triumphantly appeared at the show nevertheless, flaunting his striped rod and happily greeting the myth-bearing sculptor Etienne-Martin; a photograph documents their jubilant encounter inside an installation by Richard Long.

The role of stripes is not negligible in the history of Conceptual art. Daniel Buren provides perhaps the most obvious example, but Cadere, dressed in his favorite striped T-shirt and carrying one of his colorful wooden rods, is certainly a noteworthy contender when it comes to philosophical subtlety. The color schemes of his signature barres de bois rond (bars of round wood) are based on a code derived from mathematical permutations, into which Cadere introduced a single error in each case. These handmade Minimalist objects in many ways represent a painterly practice, characterized by meticulous play with color and gestalt, and even a kind of spontaneity granted them via the inserted errors. Constructed from small wooden cylinders of identical height and diameter, they exist in many sizes: Some are rather large, but they are never so massive that they could not be carried around in the streets or strategically placed outside galleries, museums, academies, or restaurants where artworld people would gather. Cadere, who died in 1978, at age forty-four, also referred to his rods as peinture sans fin—limitless painting—a term that gives this large survey at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany, which features more than sixty barres, its subtitle.

As is clear in the documentation also on view in the show, Cadere’s interventions in the public realm were often carefully planned walks that he would announce in advance. An invitation card from the David Ebony Gallery in New York, for example, reads: SATURDAY APRIL 8, 1978 1:00 PM — 323 WEST BROADWAY / SATURDAY APRIL 8, 1978 1:30 PM —412 WEST BROADWAY / SATURDAY APRIL 8, 1978 2:00 PM — 393 WEST BROADWAY, etc. (Walks through other cities are documented on similar cards, sometimes in slightly less monotonous language.) Cadere’s appearances at other artists’ openings were, by contrast, rarely announced. These intrusions frequently went unappreciated, and the artist was sometimes denied entry; his wooden stick was confiscated at least once. But Cadere would outsmart everyone: At a 1973 opening of a show of Valerio Adami’s paintings at Galerie Maeght in Paris, Cadere anticipated that he would be prevented from bringing a large barre into the gallery and so hid a very small second rod in his pocket. After being denied entry with the larger work, he smuggled in this miniature parasite instead, and a tiny striped rod soon appeared on the gallery floor.

And yet Cadere emphasized that he was not interested in provocation. In a 1976 interview with Lynda Morris (published in the catalogue accompanying the current show), the artist explains that the emotional response of the audience—indifference, hate, or love—matters little to him: “I am not interested in the reaction of people and I do not need their reactions.” What is significant is the becoming visible of the art itself, and the demonstration of its independence from institutional power structures. Understanding himself as a foreigner in every culture and as a stranger to every collective situation, Cadere was keen to prove that he didn’t belong in any economic or political arrangement, and that his art was not constrained by any edifice, symbolic or physical. He was deeply skeptical of architecture. After accepting an invitation to take part in a group show at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1974, the extent of his participation was showing up at the opening with a barre, just as he had on numerous previous occasions. And when Yvon Lambert organized a show in New York to feature Cadere alongside other Parisbased artists (including Buren and Niele Toroni) in 1976, he chose instead to walk around Manhattan with one of his rods, showing nothing at all in the exhibition space itself.

I did not walk to Baden-Baden, but traveled by train from Frankfurt to see the sparsest of exhibitions: large empty expanses, with nothing but wooden sticks in numerous colors, placed on the floor, leaning against walls, hanging on walls. The show is beautifully curated by Karola Grässlin, who has given the works just the right amount of white space in which to resonate, but even so, there is really precious little to see. The exhibition also includes a few cards and photographs, as well as three short films showing the artist in action. Cadere himself did not consider such documentation art: Only the wooden rods themselves counted. And these objects—produced by an artist who was not at home anywhere, whose own “dirty situation” was based only on forms of alterity, and who, he said, had nothing to lose (because he owned nothing)—seem to me to punch holes in the homogeneous world of art as we know it.

“André Cadere: Peinture sans fin” remains on view at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany, through Jan. 20, and travels to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Feb. 14–May 25; Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, The Netherlands, June 8–Sept 14.

Daniel Birnbaum is a contributing editor of Artforum.