In 1976, Carl Andre was at the centre of one of the
biggest controversies in art history. As the minimalist sculptor
launches a retrospective exhibition of his work in Kent, Chris
Price posed the questions.
The Tate had already owned Carl Andre’s work Equivalent VIII,
better known as The Bricks, for four years by the time the media
decided to make it the focus of its criticism.
Bought for £2,297 in 1972, the 120 cream-coloured, American
firebricks are arranged on the floor in two layers of 60, to form a
rectangle. When it was exhibited in 1976, the Daily Mirror ran the
frontpage headline What a Load of Rubbish and it triggered a
“I am still told that you can’t make art out of bricks,”
said Massachusetts-born Carl, 77, who lives in New York.
“I believe you can make art out of anything.”
Although the controversy surrounding this work made his name
more widely known, Carl was already a huge figure in the art world.
He is considered one of the leading artists associated with the
emergence of Minimalism in the USA in the mid 1960s.
His exhibition at the Turner Contemporary is his first in a UK
public gallery for more than 10 years and brings together eight
sculptures made between 1967 and 1983, alongside a collection of
his typed poems.
So what does he say to those who find his work challenging to
accept as art? His answers are short and defensive but he decides
not to focus his attention at the British press.
“Most Americans have very little sense of the properties of
the materials around them,” he said. The quality of materials is a
huge part of his exhibition. Carl uses the common materials of
everyday production in his work – wood, bricks and metals such as
aluminium, copper, steel, magnesium and lead. He famously has said
that his ambition as an artist is to be the Turner of matter. He
said: “As Turner severed colour from depiction, so I attempt to
sever matter from depiction.”
Like other artists associated with Minimalism, Carl is concerned
with the character of different materials. He describes wood as
“the mother of matter” while he considers bricks equally valid
materials as oil paint or plaster for making art. He considers
bricklayers to be “people of fine craft”.
The discussion on this brings out Carl’s humorous side too.
“Art materials are sold at a mark-up about 10 times that of the
price of industrial materials,” he said coyly. He never alters his
materials but simply arranges them, with the aim of showing off
His poetry takes a similar approach to his sculpture, stripping
the words down to the bare minimum. Individual words and phrases
are arranged on the page, isolated and freed from all grammar.
“Good poetry is not verbose,” he said.
A number of works in the Turner exhibition date from the 1960s –
a key period of Andre’s career – such as 4 x 25 Altstadt Rectangle
(1967). Originally designed for visitors to walk on, the gallery is
still deciding whether to make this an option for its
“They can enter the space of the work by walking over it,” said
Carl, matter of factly.
So does Margate hold any interest for him in art terms? Is there
anything he could do with the town’s raw materials?
“All I know is that Margate is a seaside resort. I have very
little use for sand and seawater.”
That’s that then.
Carl Andre: Mass and Matter runs at the Turner Contemporary,
Margate, from Friday, February 1, to Monday, May 6. Admission free.
Call 01843 233000. Free exhibition tours run every Saturday, Sunday
and bank holiday from 11am to 11.30am.
Tate Liverpool’s head of exhibitions and displays Gavin
Delahunty, expert Dr Alistair Rider and art history lecturer Dr
Grant Pooke discuss the context in which Carl Andre’s practice
emerged and its influence on artists and art history. The talk
takes place on Wednesday, March 6. Tickets £6, concessions
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