The current retrospective of the work of the American sculptor and poet Carl Andre, on view at Dia:Beacon, engenders nothing short of a provocative re-inscription of the parameters for artistic production within the Minimalist cannon. A consideration of Andre’s poems alongside both well known and lesser known sculptural forms, in addition to previously unknown projects in diverse media, foreground the relation between Andre’s material processes and a systems aesthetic. Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958-2010 enables us to begin to register the grounds, or limiting conditions, through which an improvisatory and material systems aesthetic may emerge.
In the expansive, refitted factory space of Dia:Beacon, Andre’s sculptures—from his metal floor tiles, to his permutations of units in wood—perform their materiality and placement. In this naturally lit environment, the materials are best able to do their work. Zinc tiles announce their flatness alongside the undulating cylindricality of steel reinforcing rods; the latter’s gnarled, raw resistance to the floor reasserting the industrial labor worked into the smooth, cold surfaces of the former laying nearby. In Triskaidek (1979), precise segments of Western red cedar, displayed in ninety-one units each measuring 12 x 36 x 12, enact a mathematical drill—an operation of the consecutive sum of all numbers from one to thirteen. With the age rings of the red cedar exposed, the drill unavoidably moves inward, extending out from the artist’s execution to the viewer’s own processing of the factors that matter—materials and their origins, placement, and temporal structures. We configure the sculptures’ configurations, by walking and counting, by logically justifying arrangements and shapes.
Material and structural differences begin to matter here in ways that seeing a single work of Andre’s alone, in a gallery setting, would fail to. While surely a factor of the retrospective exhibit, it is also an attribute that the space of Dia:Beacon brings to it—an attribute that appeared as well in their long-term installation of Andy Warhol’s Shadows and On Kawara’s date paintings currently on view.
Throughout the exhibition, the co-curators, Yasmil Raymond and Philippe Vergne, bring attention to Andre’s collaboration with the American photographer, filmmaker and theorist, Hollis Frampton. Frampton not only photographed Andre’s early sculptures, the prints of which are on view in the show, but also had an active and productive dialogue with Andre. This exchange extended beyond their well known 12 Dialogues, the series of typed events between Andre and Frampton that took place between 1962-1963, published in 1980. There are poems for Frampton and those that correspond directly to Frampton’s own work, including ESSAYONPHOTOGRAPHY-FORHOLLISFRAMPTON (1965) and THETHETHETHE-THETHETHETHETHETHE-SECRETSECRETSECRET-SECRETSECRET (ca.1959-1965), a poem that references Frampton’s photographic series, The Secret World of Frank Stella (1959-1962).
However, the exhibition, geared as it is to highlight Andre’s work, inevitably falls short in accounting for the extent of Andre’s collaborations with artists like Frampton. For example, it goes unmentioned that Andre’s poem A Short History of King Philip’s War (in 4 suits), from 1960, which appears to have been previously named A King Philip’s War Primer, was for a time under consideration by both Andre and Frampton to become a 20-minute, 16mm color film, according to correspondence between Frampton and their mutual friend, Reno Odlin.[i] While there is not space here to fully explore the moments of intersection between Frampton and Andre’s practices, I would like to highlight an interesting omission from the show that provides an important historical touchstone for both artists’ practices.
The basement of Dia:Beacon includes a vitrine featuring several mail art projects, one from Andre to the artist, Marjorie Strider, one to Jennifer Light and another to Reno Odlin. These projects each share a similar structure consisting of a set of images, either in postcard form (Strider and Light), or pages from a book (Odlin), that were sent individually over a period of time, with each image numbered according to the order in which it was sent. Installed in the show, each set holds itself together through a system of built-in correspondences and differences. Strider’s project consists of a series of 124 postcards, each with different Tartan designs. Light’s project consists of a set of 30 cards made of the Olympic male swimming team, in naked frontal and dorsal views (shielded frontally by a white triangle over the pelvis), stating the biometric facts of each swimmer, including the date of his best performance. Sent between 1970 and 1975, this group of mail art projects points to another, not in the show, between Carl Andre and Hollis Frampton.
On October 31, 1974, Andre sent the first of forty-eight numbered envelopes from Manhattan to Frampton’s home in rural, upstate New York. Postmarked and numbered, the numbers on the envelope corresponded to the post-marked date, except numbers 1, and 31-48, which corresponded to the single digit of the date.[ii] Each envelope contained a single page pulled from a small, rope-bound, marble notebook.[iii] Each page contained photographic-based reproductions of works of art, cut from various publications and pasted on each side. These objects included reproductions of “Francis the First Engraving the Famous Verses on the Window,” a scene from the Battle of Waterloo by Stanley Berkeley, etchings and line drawings of ancient ruins, and half-tone photo-engravings from photographs of significant places, groups and events.[iv] On two occasions, however, the reverse side included the ghostly remains of a photographic portrait, depicting a male sitter in formal attire on printing-out paper—unfixed photographs left to fade to black over time.[v]
Andre and Frampton’s mail art project does not hold together as a set as well as both Strider’s and Light’s. The images come from a pre-existing scrapbook that bore the handwritten title, “Photographs of Historical Events,” most likely penned by its original owner, an Alfred L. Hallquist.[vi] The pages themselves are extremely brittle and mauve-colored dating roughly from the 1890s.[vii] This mail art project does however resonate with another project on view at Dia:Beacon: Andre’s Passport, New York from 1960 that consists of reproductions of works of art in a range of different media, along with photographs, one notable inclusion being the photograph of Frank Stella taken by Hollis Frampton that was published in the 16 Americans catalogue from 1959 (Andre had contributed a complementary text for Stella’s catalogue entry).
To define the set of Frampton and Andre’s mail art project entails attending not only to the materiality of the brittle pages, and to the acts of reproduction glued upon them, but also to the system of sending and receiving enacted by the postal process, and the correspondences between the calendar date and the numbered envelopes. Such correspondences do not appear to be a factor in the mail art projects on view at Dia:Beacon. As a repetitive and ritualistic act set to correspond to a calendrical cycle, Frampton and Andre’s mail art project offers speculation upon the relationship of images to habitual human experience and, ultimately, to history. While this notion is of definitive relevance to Frampton photographic-based practice, it provides a new resonance for Andre’s exploration of materials, of labor, and systems and structures on view at Dia:Beacon. Frampton and Andre’s mail art project enables us to contextualize Andre’s practice in accordance with many of the performance and ritual based avant-garde practices of the post-War period. Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958-2010 at Dia:Beacon is an excellent and productive show that asks us to look beyond conventional art historical narratives and enact our own drill.
All, that has been, is as it should have been,
but what will they trust in
-Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXVI, from “Rock-Drill de los Canteres,” ll. 16404-16406.[viii]
Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958-2010 is on view at DIA Beacon through March 9, 2015.
[i] Frampton to Odlin, 5 August 1960, in Hollis Frampton: Letters, 2nd edition, ed. Reno Odlin (Paris: Galerie Arnaud Lefebvre, 2002), 51.
[ii] For example, 1/48 was post-marked on October 31, 2/48 was post-marked on November 2, 4/48 on November 4, 10/48 on November 10, and so on. There are some exceptions when two envelopes were marked with the same date (often one in the morning, the other in the afternoon), or when the date-stamp was missing or unreadable.
[iii] The notebook measures 9 x 5 ½”.
[iv] “Francis the First Engraving the Famous Verses on the Window” appears in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 83 (June 1891), page 91.
[v] A hint of a small white arrow is discernible in the lower center of each image. Number 17/48 appears more like a bow tie; Number 16/48 possesses a longer triangle, suggesting a tie. It is possible that more were included in the book. Several envelopes remained un-opened, and have been determined by Frampton’s estate to remain so.
[vi] A sticker stating “Library of Alfred L. Hallquist” adhered on the inside cover, over the top edge of a pasted reproduction of “The Surrender of Granada,” from the painting by Pradilla. The sticker bearing this label was crossed out in pencil. A signature of Alfred L. Hallquist is also present on the inside cover in a manner that corresponds to the handwriting of the title.
[vii] I thank David Soures Wooters, senior archivist at the George Eastman House for dating the paper to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. Based on the origin of “Francis the First Engraving the Famous Verses on the Window” from Harper’s from 1891, it is my belief that this object began as a scrapbook around that time.
[viii] Ezra Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1998), ll. 16404-16406.