From the sea harbors and quarries of his childhood surroundings, to his teenage visit to Stonehenge; from his shared studio space with Frank Stella, to his work on the railroads during the early 1960s, the myriad influences on Carl Andre's anomalous persona informed his ideas of space, material, and form.
Andre developed a mathematical grammar that removes nothing from the material itself, but works like Brancusi's Endless Column, through simple spatial permutations. Flat, modular, and made of ordinary materials, his pieces challenge traditional preconceptions of three-dimensional sculpture, executed in marble or bronze. Sixteen Steel Cardinal uses a manmade, uniform mode of execution to create a perfect grid of plates of hot rolled steel. Their flatness, however, by no means diminishes their presence. As the artist states: "I don't think of them as being flat at all. I think in a sense, that each piece supports a column of air that extends to the top of the atmosphere. They're zones" (R. Lauter, Carl Andre, Extraneous Roots, Frankfurt-on-main, 1991, p. 17).
The space occupied by Andre's 'Cardinal' pieces varies according to the total number of units they contain, which is based on the cardinal numbers and their mathematical properties. Among the series of works, there are rows, squares, and rectangles made up of varying numbers of identical plates. The number of units in the rows is always prime, the number of units in the squares is always a square, and the number of units in the rectangles is always the product of two primes.
Within the security of these limitations, Andre engages a world of possibilities. "My life has been a search for my true limits," he explains. "Such limits define an artist. I realized that my vocation was to use my materials as cuts into space rather than cutting into the space of my materials" (E. Meyer-Hermann, Carl Andre, Sculptor 1996, exh. cat., Krefeld and Wolfsburg, 1996, p. 54).