"Carl Andre, ho-hum," I thought as I trekked toward London's Whitechapel Gallery, "I could be shopping." My retail expedition was thwarted by a photo of Andre's work in a Times glimpsed over the shoulder of a fellow tube passenger. Far from the stolid grids of metal floor plates I'd come to associate with the artist, here was a loose coil of thin copper sheeting which, set on edge and arranged on the floor, resembled the undulating swirls of a shimmering galaxy.
Emerson said you never experience art the same way twice. I guess it was my second moment for Andre, because even though the pieces in the exhibition were not entirely new (either work from the past or recent returns to old themes), the show seemed not retrospective at all, but fresh, up-to-date, at times even whimsical.
Glarus Copper Galaxy (1995)--which I'd seen in the paper--was accompanied by another, more deliberately coiled spiral which, rendered in tin, looked more earthly than celestial, rather like a medieval labyrinth. There were the requisite floor pieces of weathered steel, copper and the more exotic bismuth, cadmium and indium, as well as a couple of Andre's constructions of massive cedar blocks. Yet the exhibition made clear that there are two sides to Andre: the fiercely mathematical and its playful opposite, which is open to chance. When these two aspects are combined in the same piece, the result is most magical. Rather than being pressed into a tight grid, the 144 lead cubes, each approximately 5 inches square, of Wolke (1996) were scattered on the floor. From a material that is synonymous with weight, Andre creates an effect of lightness and motion; the blocks appear to be engaged in a continuous dance which, like that of the Nutcracker toys, is stopped only by our gaze.
Andre's recent exhibition at Paula Cooper in New York also was a revisitation of old themes, but this time in miniature. Resembling nothing less than an Andre interpreted by Richard Pettibone, it was like one big scatter piece in which the carefully positioned elements--all familiar Andre images--were reduced to HO train scale. There was a little teeny spiral, 20-unit rectangles of what looked like maple ("it's just wood," the gallery people said when I asked) and floor pieces made of 2-inch-square satiny stainless-steel plates. Each was a collector's dream: a signature Carl Andre sculpture that will fit comfortably on the corner of your desk. Although it could be seen as Carl Andre lite, there was something ingratiating about sculpture that didn't take itself so seriously.
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