Uncertainty and Doubt

Carl Andre Uncarved Blocks 1970s

An artist, to achieve anything in art, has to finally do the thing that nobody else wants to do and nobody else has thought to do. I was inspired tremendously by Brancusi, but I never wanted to make a Brancusi… I think my work is very American because I’m American. But I found that Europeans like uncertainty and doubt. Look at the chaos of European history. Europeans cannot believe in certainty. But Americans believe in certainty. Americans think this can go on like this forever. Just as it is. No change. [Carl Andre in conversation with Barbara Rose]

Carl Andre is difficult. There’s nothing easy about this work, because for the most part we don’t know what it’s about. It eludes interpretation. When you see a full installation of Andre’s work it’s surprising how effective it can be. Its simplicity is breathtaking and its logic is beyond reproach. (And in the case of the wood blocks – it smells good.) But there’s always something working beneath the surface, and in this case what becomes apparent is the slippery nature of capital. This is not Art in the historical sense, but it’s a new Art in the economic sense. This is art that’s made for Global trade. It can be easily dismantled, placed on a container ship, moved to the next location and reassembled. It is an art for the WTO. It is an art of contracts, agreements and treaties. Andre may very well be the first purely Globalist artist. When his Equivalent VIII arrived in the UK in 1976 there were many Brexit-like discussions about the materials and the presentation of the work – all in relation to its value – as both art and material. And ironically these discussions conferred even more value onto the work as they foreshadowed many aesthetic and economic issues – some of which we are still dealing with in the NeoLiberal Economic World.

Carl Andre Uncarved Blocks 1975

“Wherever Andre was, he kept working. Andre has described himself as the first post-studio artist. He has never needed a studio, because the materials he works with—four-by-four timbers, bricks, one-foot-square metal plates, cut or natural stones, and other available hardware—are ordered from suppliers and assembled by Andre on the site. Andre does not carve, or model, or weld, or transform his materials. His great innovation was to assemble the elements of his simple, linear sculptures on the floor, without joining them together. Other contemporary sculptors had done away with pedestals and the vertical axis, but Andre’s reorientation of his work to the horizontal plane, where it functioned not as an object but, in his words, “as a place,” was more radical and more influential than anything being done by Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, or the other minimalist artists in the nineteen-sixties.” [Calvin Tomkins on Carl Andre]

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