Miami Herald (Sunday)

Carl Andre, austere sculptor and minimalist pioneer, dies at 88


Carl Andre, who helped transform the art of sculpture through his floorbound arrangemen­ts of granite, metal, timber and brick, and who became a polarizing figure in the art world after he was accused and later acquitted of murdering his wife, Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta, died Jan. 24 at a hospice facility in Manhattan. He was 88.

A spokespers­on for the Paula Cooper Gallery in Manhattan, which represente­d him, confirmed his death but did not cite a specific cause.

Across his nearly sevendecad­e career, Andre was a sculptor as well as a poet, creating more than 2,000 sculptures and about as many poems, many of them experiment­al pieces that he referred to as “typewriter drawings.” His work was cool and serene, employing ready-made materials arranged in austere geometric forms, and helped fuel the minimalist reaction to abstract expression­ism and 20th-century sculpture more broadly.

Although he started out making monumental constructi­ons and elevated wood carvings, Andre made his name in the mid-1960s with works that were resolutely horizontal – as level as the rails that he traversed as a onetime freight conductor and brakeman, and as flat as the lake that he canoed during a pivotal summer in New Hampshire.

“My ideal piece of sculpture is a road,” he liked to say.

For his sculpture “Lever,” which brought him to prominence in 1966 when it was exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, he lined up a single row of firebricks against a wall, 137 in all. Within a few years he had launched his “Plains” and “Squares” series, crafting checkerboa­rd sculptures made of steel, aluminum, zinc and magnesium plates. Viewers were encouraged to walk across each piece, registerin­g changes in texture and sound.

“Through fairly straightfo­rward means, Andre rethought what sculpture traditiona­lly was, how it worked,” the New York Times art critic Holland Cotter wrote in 2014, reviewing a retrospect­ive of the sculptor’s work at Dia Beacon in the Hudson Valley. “He dispensed with the convention­al formal skills. He eliminated the illusion of permanence, the essence of monumental. And he got rid of pedestals, the enshrining elevations that set sculpture apart from the world.”

Early on, his work frequently inspired more confusion than respect. When the Tate Gallery in Britain acquired his 1966 sculpture “Equivalent VIII,” a rectangula­r arrangemen­t of 120 bricks, conservati­ve critics accused the museum of wasting taxpayers’ money on a “pile of bricks.” One visitor tossed a bucket of blue dye on the exhibit.

Andre’s 1977 installati­on “Stone Field Sculpture,” an outdoor sculpture of three-dozen boulders that was commission­ed for a public park in Hartford, Conn., drew the ire of local residents who questioned how he could call it art. “It’s just a bunch of rocks, little kids could do that,” said the mayor, who declared that the sculptor had brought “internatio­nal ridicule” to the city.

Asked by one visitor whether he was attempting an elaborate prank, Andre demurred. “I may be putting myself on,” he

said during a visit to Hartford. “If I’m deceiving you, then I’ve deceived myself. It’s possible.”

At times, Andre seemed to be as unorthodox as his sculptures. He espoused Marxist political theories, railing against commercial forces that made him “a kept artist of the imperial class.” He grew a full beard and shoulderle­ngth hair. He dressed exclusivel­y in bib overalls, explaining that the garment was the only thing that reliably fit over his belly.

His bohemian image only seemed to enhance his stature in the art world, where he reigned as one of the nation’s most intriguing sculptors – “the high priest of Minimal,” as art critic Peter Schjeldahl once put it – while regularly exhibiting at major museums.

That began to change after the early morning of Sept. 8, 1985, when his third wife, Mendieta, plunged to her death at age 36, falling from a bedroom window in their 34th-floor apartment in Greenwich Village. The couple had married eight months earlier, to the surprise of friends who had followed their turbulent relationsh­ip from its beginning in the late 1970s through public shouting matches and a months-long separation.

“My wife is an artist, and I’m an artist, and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was,” Andre said in a taped 911 call after Mendieta’s death. “And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.”

Andre later told police that he was not in the room when she fell. He was arrested the night of Mendieta’s death, jailed on Rikers Island and charged with seconddegr­ee murder. A group of dealers and friends, including artist Frank Stella, helped him post the $250,000 bail.

After three years of highly publicized legal proceeding­s, Andre was acquitted in a nonjury trial in 1988. But the case continued to divide the art world, as Mendieta’s family, friends and allies remained convinced that Andre had thrown her out the window.

The youngest of three children, Carl George Andre was born in Quincy, Mass., on Sept. 16, 1935. His father, a Swedish immigrant, designed freshwater plumbing systems for ships. His mother was an office manager turned homemaker.

Andre said he “got the art craze” while studying on a scholarshi­p at Phillips

Academy prep school in Andover, Mass., where he holed up in the school studio to paint in his free time. He briefly attended Kenyon College in Ohio – the school had shoddy art facilities, he recalled, so he stopped going to class – and went home to Quincy, where he worked in a factory and saved enough money to travel to London. While there, he stayed with an aunt who took him to Stonehenge. The trip convinced him of his vocation as a sculptor.

After a stint in the Army, Andre moved to New York City in 1957. He began making wooden sculptures the next year, wielding a saw or chisel to craft timber pieces that, with their geometric patterns and rigorous internal logic, drew comparison­s to the work of Stella, the painter whose studio he shared.

For a few years, he supported his art-making by working for the Pennsylvan­ia Railroad. He had his first solo show in

1965, with an arrangemen­t of nine-foot-long plastic foam beams and girders that filled the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, and his first retrospect­ive in 1970, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side. His last large-scale sculpture, “5VCEDAR5H,” an assembly of 10 cedar blocks, was exhibited in 2022 at Paula Cooper Gallery.

Andre’s first two marriages, to Barbara Brown, a schoolteac­her, and Rosemarie Castoro, a fellow minimalist, ended in divorce. Survivors include his fourth wife, artist Melissa L. Kretschmer, and a sister.

When asked about the nature of his work, whether there was some higher meaning he was trying to express, Andre was equivocal.

“Yes, art is expressive, but it is expressive of that which can be expressed in no other way,” he told Art Forum in 1970. As he saw it, minimalism was really about eliminatin­g the extraneous, including cultural references and other suggestion­s of meaning – “things that seem to have something to do with art but don’t have anything to do with art at all.”

“You have to really rid yourself of those securities and certaintie­s and assumption­s and get down to something which is closer and resembles some kind of blankness,” he continued. “Then one must construct again out of this reduced circumstan­ce. That’s another way, perhaps, of an art poverty; one has to impoverish one’s mind.”

 ?? HOLLIS FRAMPTON Art Copyright Carl Andre/Artists Rights Society (ARS), Dia Art Foundation, New York ?? Artist Carl Andre with Radial Arm Saw-Cut Sculptures, 1959-1960.
HOLLIS FRAMPTON Art Copyright Carl Andre/Artists Rights Society (ARS), Dia Art Foundation, New York Artist Carl Andre with Radial Arm Saw-Cut Sculptures, 1959-1960.

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