Carl Andre (b. 1935) is an American Minimalist artist and sculptor recognized for his characteristic ordered linear and grid format sculptures. Ranging from large public artworks (such as Stone Field Sculpture, 1977 in Hartford, CT, and Lament for the Children, 1976 in Long Island City, NY) to more intimate tile patterns arranged on the floor of an exhibition space (such as 144 Lead Square, 1969 or Twenty-fifth Steel Cardinal, 1974 and those currently on-view at The Bonnier Gallery in Miami, FL). In 1988, Andre was tried and acquitted in the death of his wife, artist Ana Mendieta.
In 1935, Andre was born in Quincy, MA. After primary school, he studied art at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, from 1951 to 1953. At Phillips, Andre's classmates and friends included photographer Hollis Frampton who would later influence Andre's radical approach to sculpture through their conversations about art. Frampton introduced Andre to other influential artists such as Constantin Brancusi and painter Frank Stella. After serving in the U.S. Army for a year, Andre moved to New York City in 1956 and in 1958 became re-acquainted with Stella with whom he shared studio space until 1960.
Andre's early work in wood may have been inspired by Brâncusi, but his conversations with Stella about space and form led him in a different direction. Andre — who was experimenting with paint at the time — recalled: "One day Frank Stella just said to me, 'Look, if you paint another painting I’m going to cut off your hands […] you are a good sculptor now.'"
While sharing a studio with Stella, Andre developed a series of wooden "cut" sculptures (such as Radial Arm Saw cut sculpture, 1959, and Maple Spindle Exercise, 1959). Stella is noted as having said to Andre (regarding hunks of wood removed from Andre's sculpture) "Carl, that's sculpture, too."
From 1960 to 1964 Andre worked as freight brakeman and conductor in New Jersey for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The experience with blue collar labor and the ordered nature of conducting freight trains would have a later influence on Andre's sculpture and artistic personality. It was not uncommon for Andre to dress in overalls and a blue work shirt, even to the most formal occasions.
During this period, Andre focused mainly on writing and there is little notable sculpture on record between 1960 and 1965. The poetry would resurface later, most notably in a book called 12 Dialogues (published in 1980; New York University Press) in which Andre and Frampton took turns responding to one another at a typewriter using mainly poetry and free-form essay-like texts. Andre's concrete poetry has exhibited in the United States and Europe, a comprehensive collection of which is in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
The first public showing of Andre's work was in 1965; he was one of ten artists featured in one of the earliest exhibitions of Minimal art: Shape and Structure (1965), curated by Henry Geldzahler at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
Andre's controversial Lever was included in the seminal 1966 show at the Jewish Museum in New York entitled Primary Structures.
- In 1969 Andre helped organize the Art Workers Coalition.
- In 1970 he had a solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
- In 1972, Britain's Tate Gallery acquired Andre's Equivalent VIII, an arrangement of firebricks. The piece was exhibited several times without incident, but became the center of controversy in 1976 after being featured in an article in The Sunday Times and later being defaced with blue food dye. The "Bricks controversy" became one of the most famous public debates in Britain about contemporary art.
“I have no art ideas; I only have art desires.'
"I am certainly no kind of Conceptual artist because the physical existence of my work cannot be separated from the idea of it. That’s why I said I [have] no art ideas; I only have art desires. To speak of ideas as conceptions in a philosophical sense and then to think of ideas for art - well, that is to speak about two utterly different things. I think what we really mean to do is to apply ourselves to the language we use in the most rigorous sense. As Confucius said, when he was asked what he would do if he were made the prime minister of the duchy where he lived, 'The first thing I would do is call things by their right names. This is why I wish to separate myself entirely from any Conceptual art or even with ideas in art. My art springs from my desire to have things in the world that would otherwise never be there. By nature, I am a materialist, an admirer of Lucretius. It is exactly these impingements upon our sense of touch and so forth that I’m interested in. The sense of one’s own being in the world confirmed by the existence of things and others in the world. This, to me, is far beyond being as an idea. This is a recognition, a state of being, a state of consciousness – and I don’t wish at all to be portrayed a mystic in that. I don’t think that that’s mystical at all. I think it’s a true awareness that doesn’t have anything to do with mysticism or religion. It has to do with life as opposed to death and a feeling of the true existence of the world in oneself. This is not an idea. An idea is a much lower category on my scale in that awareness, that consciousness."
Tuchman, ‘An Interview with Carl Andre’, 60, cited in CUTS Carl Andre Texts 1959 – 2004 (Cambridge (MA) USA: MIT Press, 2005), p. 85