Flat Out: The Work of Carl Andre

  • by Jenny Bahn

You'd know a Carl Andre sculpture when you saw it. The man, with his signature minimalist anti-panache, redefined the concept, turning a traditionally vertical work on its head, so to speak, and working on a horizontal plane. Scattered blocks, stacks of bricks, metal coils: Andre's low-lying sculptures quietly consumed space in an unsuspecting fashion. What had previously been the medium for daunting, towering monoliths was brought down to size, engaging with the viewer in a new dialogue.

Andre lived and created in a New York that no longer exists--namely, a cheaper one--where you could survive on the $30 a week you made at a publishing house and fork out just $40 each month for a hotel room, all while still making art in your spare time out of materials harvested from the street. It was the late '50s, and Andre was in the company of other now-renowned artists like Richard Serra, Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg. By the sounds of it, everyone was struggling too much and drinking too much, a historically potent recipe for rather brilliant work.

The genius in Andre's art was perhaps its temporality. While his predecessors worked with massive, hulking stacks of immovable marble, carved out in such a manner to infer ultimate longevity, Andre made pieces that lived only for as long as it was displayed. It could be disassembled, broken apart, pushed aside. As a result, much of Andre's work has been lost over the years, either given away on account of lack of space in which to store it or reverted back to its original state, a conceptually curated forrest of wood simply converted into a stack of meaningless 2x4s.

It is this constant state of ebb and flow that defines his sculptures--an almost spontaneous combustion of work into space, its arrival just as sudden and natural as its inevitable departure. Such is life.  


Photos courtesy of ArtNet, Phaidon, Impression Art.


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