Carl Andre
Biography of American Minimalist Sculptor of Geometric Floor Works.

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Minimalist sculpture by Carl Andre.

Carl Andre (b.1935)


Training and Early Works
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Cut and assembled minimalist
wood sculpture by Carl Andre.


The American sculptor Carl Andre, one of the best-known exponents of minimalist art, is renowned for his geometric arrangements of identical objects like bricks or blocks, or other grid-format sculptures. A major figure in American contemporary art - he was honoured with a full retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum New York in 1970, at the age of 35 - his principal contribution was to disengage the art of sculpture from the process of carving or modelling, and to make works that simply required arranging or placing. In the process he pioneered a new form of sculptural assemblage art in which elements are stacked and interlocked. His many masterworks include: Traburn (Element Series) (1960-77, Guggenheim NY); Chain Well (1964, National Gallery of Australia); Magnesium-Zinc Plain (1969, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego); Twenty-fifth Steel Cardinal (1974) and The Uncarved Blocks (1975). He is also known for his large scale public art, including Stone Field Sculpture (1977, Hartford, CT) and Lament for the Children (1976, Long Island City, NY). Exhibitions of his minimalist sculpture are held in several of the best contemporary galleries around the world. Other important exponents of minimalist sculpture include Donald Judd (1928-1994), Sol LeWitt (b.1928), Robert Morris (b.1931), Richard Serra (b.1939), and Tony Smith (1912-80); while minimalist painters include Agnes Martin (b.1912), Ad Reinhardt (1913-67), Kenneth Noland (b.1924) and Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923).

Training and Early Works

Born in Quincy, MA, Carl Andre studied art at Phillips Academy in Andover (1951-53) and at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio. After this he worked at Boston Gear Works, earning enough money to travel to France and also England, where he was greatly impressed by Stonehenge. During this time, he wrote poetry, produced drawings, and began making geometric-shaped sculptures. He served in the U.S. Army in North Carolina (1955-56), before settling in New York City (1957), where he worked as an editorial assistant for a publishing house. While in New York, he was introduced to the elderly Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), through whom he became re-acquainted with Frank Stella (b.1936) a former classmate from Phillips Academy. Andre worked in Stella's studio (1958-60), where he developed a series of wooden "cut" sculptures (Last Ladder, 1959, Tate, London) strongly influenced by Brancusi and by Stella's "Black Paintings".

From 1960 to 1964, he worked as a freight brakeman and conductor for the Pennsylvania Railroad in New Jersey, later claiming that the repetition of shapes in train carriages and railway lines had a significant impact on his art. However, during this period he focused mainly on writing and produced no notable sculpture. From 1964 onwards, however, he focused on assembling sculptures out of simple blocks of material, exploring the idea that the use of multiple repeated elements emphasizes the shift from form and structure to the space occupied by the construction.

Mature Career

Andre's sculpture was first exhibited in a group show in 1964, followed by a solo exhibition in 1965 entitled "Shape and Structure", curated by Henry Geldzahler at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York. In 1966, his controversial work Lever was included in the seminal "Primary Structures" art exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York. Andre's works were typically non-figurative, usually consisting of identical ready-made commercial units, such as bricks, cement blocks, or metal plates, put together in geometric arrangements, and placed directly on the floor so as to emphasize material, form, and structure - inviting viewers to question the space around them. He eliminated everything decorative or extraneous, reducing all components to precise and pure necessities, as in 144 Aluminium Squares (1967, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena).

Not everyone was a fan of Andre's postmodernist art, especially in Britain. In 1972 the Tate Gallery bought Carl Andre's minimalist floor sculpture Equivalent VIII (1966), composed of 120 firebricks arranged two bricks high in a rectangle. In 1976, after being featured in an article in The Sunday Times, there was an outcry about the Tate's alleged waste of public money, and the work was vandalized.

For other controversial postmodernist artists, see the installationist Damien Hirst (b.1965), the graffiti painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), the photographers Diane Arbus (1923-1971) and Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89), and the sculptor Jeff Koons (b.1955).

In the early 1970s Andre made some important wood sculptures, such as Henge on Threshold (1971, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo). After 1975 he returned to using wood, but henceforth only unaltered blocks reminiscent of railway sleepers: see, for instance, The Way North, East, South, West (1975, Agnes Gind Private Collection).

In 1988, Andre was tried and acquitted of murdering his third wife, the young Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, who plunged to her death from the bedroom window of their 34th floor Manhattan apartment. However, he was shunned thereafter by many in the art world, and retired from active life.

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• For more about the evolution of 3-D art, see: History of Sculpture.

• For more contemporary carvers, see: 20th Century Sculptors.

Minimalist sculptures by Carl Andre are on display in several of the best art museums and contemporary galleries around the world.


• For more about minimalist sculpture and assemblages, see: Homepage.

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