Let’s start with the fact that I don’t have an opinion one way or another about Carl Andre’s role in the death of Ana Mendieta. He was acquitted of murder by a judge and unfortunately that’s all I have to go on. If there wasn’t sufficient evidence, I must be like that judge: impartial. Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958–2010, a retrospective of Andre’s work 30 years after Ana Mendieta‘s death, is a lightning rod because unlike me, others are sure of his guilt. Still, the man is not his art and vice versa. I am not naive and I know that this show may be another great honor bestowed upon a killer. My eyes are open, but I am no one’s judge or jury.
The discussion that has focused on Andre’s art has been largely positive. The dissenters are either scared to take shots at the Gods, are labeled activists or ignored. In this show, held at the unquestioned home of American Minimalism (or at the very least home of the “serious” 70’s art: land art, minimalism, conceptual art) Andre looks uninspired. Mostly I like to write positive reviews, but occasionally I need to question my misgivings out loud. Andre is part of the crowd of artists I love best (at least in a curatorial sense) and yet, I am unmoved. His seriousness reads stilted and unimaginative around Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Fred Sandback.
Andre has always used seductive materials: raw metal (oxidized copper, aluminum and tarnished zinc) as well as squared off timber. These materials find equivalents in DIA’s great Robert Irwin designed home. They don’t disappear, but are elevated by the indirect light and uneven colored flooring. But a single Judd plywood box seems to contain the infinite possibilities of which Andre has elaborated only a few dozen. The void is filled with less, not more and what we have in front of us is abject and listless.
Someday I will probably eat these words. I have been wrong before; loudly and with great conviction. Andre’s floor pieces have always left me emotionless. Walking across the one piece I could (with my son in hand, after an explanation had been offered that this was the only work of art we could walk on) I had no real sense of what Andre was giving us an opportunity to do, to be part of. These erstwhile steps and fences tell no stories and accomplish little other than visual cues to move oneself around them.
Walking back to Sandback’s lines of string, Heizer’s geometric holes and Judd’s boxes, I was grappling with Andre. Here I was in the home of so much art I love, feeling nothing for one of the greats from their group. Many people see conceptual and minimal art as cold. I have never understood that reading. Look into an Agnes Martin, a Robert Ryman or a Dan Flavin; a world of all that is possible is contained within. Judd’s gleaming steel or wooden boxes are made for perfection of appearance but generous interpretation. In a LeWitt my son saw a treasure map. In a Heizer, he saw a hole inside a hole that we needed to “hoist up so that it could get out”. In Andre, only obstacles, never possibilities.
Maybe Andre is a murderer, but today that is not my concern. My concern is a room filled with barriers, large and small, that are heavy without any emotional weight. Andre’s concepts are here, but his artistic life is only concept and no conviction. When seen at DIA, Andre seems part of a time and a movement, but not of the greatness that came in that time.