Carl Andre is one of the protagonists of the Minimal Art movement, a current which, since the mid 1960s, has redefined the concept of sculpture through a drastic reduction of materials and compositional elements. Along with artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Dan Flavin, Andre has taken to its extreme consequences the formal and conceptual principles that we find in the geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich and in the reductionist tendencies of Russian Constructivism and the sculpture of Constantin Brâncuși.
Andre introduced into the vocabulary of sculpture materials such as wood, concrete and steel displayed in their essence and arranged in geometric and serial compositions, so revolutionizing the concept of craftsmanship, expressiveness and narrative. Andre’s sculptural procedure negates actions traditionally related to “making sculpture”: the materials are exhibited and no longer modeled. They are selected and juxtaposed with each other and no longer assembled or modified. They come from the world of crafts and industry, just as the dimensions of the units that compose each work are borrowed from the basic principles of building: bricks, blocks and slabs.
While the Romanian sculptor Brâncuși included the pedestal within the sculpture as a unity, Andre suppresses the pedestal as a form of mediation between sculpture, exhibition space and the viewer’s body, going so far as to create sculptures that adhere to the floor and are presented as arithmetical combinations of industrial units that visitors can walk through.
Andre’s art emphasizes the specificity of both the materials and the space, turning sculpture into a place that not only stimulates the visual perception of viewers but their tactile sense.
The title of the work entered in the Madre’s collection in the context of Per_forming a collection project, Aluminum ∑ 21, brings together all the elements that compose it: not only the material (aluminum) but also the summation procedure that is the basis of the composition. In mathematics the symbol ∑ (the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet) indicates the summation procedure adopted: the 231 units, all identical, that make up the sculpture are arranged in 21 configurations so spaced that each of them contains a progressive number of units from 1 to 21.
A part of Andre’s output which is less well known to the general public consists of poetic compositions produced between the 1950s and 1970s. Mostly composed on the typewriter, his poems have close ties with his practice as a sculptor. While in the sculptures the materials, like stone slabs and blocks, are organized into modular compositions, in the poems it is the words and phrases that are repeated and combined to compose lyrics that take on geometric forms.
Language, like the materials of sculpture, becomes a concrete modular unit that exists apart from its descriptive and narrative functions: think of the repetition of the same word and the suppression of the distance between words. In this way there is an overlap and ambiguity between the act of reading and the visual perception of the poem, just as happens in his sculptures laid on the ground, in which the act of walk on them is fused with an understanding of the artwork as a tactile fact.