Sunday, August 2, 2015

Retort to Carl Andre

One of the great controversies of the 1960s and 1970s, Carl Andre produced a series of what he called "Equivalents", eight in all, made up of 120 firebricks in a rectangular formulation, just about high enough that they came above your ankles, but low enough on the ground that you had to switch your attention from the customary horizontality of the art gallery to something rather more vertical. He called the eight "Equivalents" because they were equivalent to each other, having the same number of firebricks, the same mass and volume in the final configuration, and not because they were equivalent to any conventional definition of Art.

Like many people, I hated them then and I still hate them now, half a century later. Which is to say: I like the idea behind the shift from the horizontal to the vertical, because new perspectives are always worthwhile; but I dislike the bland, empty nothingness of the bricks, which make their barely meaningful statement in such a grey voice that it devalues even the small amount of point it may have. And in truth, if they were not placed at a point in the gallery where you risked tripping over them, it would be easy to walk right by them, and assume some construction work was about to be undertaken, and the contractors had brought in some of the materials, and then go and wonder if the fire extinguisher on the opposite wall was just a fire extinguisher or itself a piece of art. Paint the darned things, Carl! Give them some life by giving them some colour! Bring out the purpose by forcing the eye to look at the art, not at the obstacle in the path.

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