"My ambition as an artist is to be the 'Turner' of matter as Turner severed color from depiction, I attempt to sever matter from depiction"--Carl Andre
Carl Andre's iconic 100 Copper Square epitomizes the seismic shift that took place as the influence of Pop began to subside and make way for an entirely new form of artistic expression. Minimalism, as this new movement became known, suppressed the illusionism inherent in painting and sought to explore the possibilities of a hitherto unexplored medium...real space. Andre was at the forefront of this crusade, and his sculptures--comprised of systems of regular units placed in grid-like formations and lying flat on the ground--became synonymous with this radical new form of art. 100 Copper Square is an outstanding example of the work he created in the 1960s and rejects the notion of sculpture as an object mounted on a pedestal and viewed from a distance. Instead this is sculpture that is not carved, modeled or constructed--it is designed to interact, both physically and intellectually, with the viewer and their environment.
The present work is composed of approximately eight by eight-inch metal squares that the artist abuts in a grid to form a larger square. In this case, the metal is copper; elsewhere Andre uses aluminum, lead, steel, zinc, magnesium and tin. Within these simple arrangements, Andre compresses a wealth of complex aesthetic ideas, implicitly arguing with sculptural conventions and refuting such formerly common notions as elevating the work of art on a pedestal, the concept of three dimensionality, and the expectation that there must be craft and talent involved in shaping the object. This work is only marginally volumetric as it rises just 2 inches off the floor. The grid and the shape and size of the materials he uses are that which determine the size and form of the final work. Each unit of the work is proportionately the same and no portion of the work commands more attention than another. As in all successful minimalist creations, the work commands a strong presence in its space and engages the viewer to interact with it and the negative space surrounding it. Nonetheless, its simple, ubiquitous materials make it fundamentally impersonal and offer a certain solemn and austere presence to the piece.
Similar to 10 x 10 Alstadt Copper Square, 1967, in the Guggenheim Collection, 100 Copper Square readily embodies the ground-breaking ideas of Minimalism. These features include ready-made materials, the employment of modular units, and the articulation of three-dimensionality through a consideration of negative as well as positive space. Another seminal idea conveyed by this work is artwork as a place or site. This idea alerts the viewer to the fact that the gallery, while often ignored as neutral space, is actually an integral component of the art. In 100 Copper Square, as in all of his sculpture of this period, Andre draws attention to the gallery space by encouraging viewers to traverse the space as well as by situating the works so that they have a dynamic relationship with the area they inhabit. These works nestle into corners, jut out from walls or occupy the middle of a passageway--all without a pedestal. Andre has stated that all works of art must exist somewhere, and for this reason all art is in a dialectical relationship with the space that contains it. In her 1979 article 'Sculpture in the Expanded Field,' Rosalind Krauss diagrams postmodernist works such as Andre's with newly created descriptions such as axiomatic structures. These creations, she explains, are interventions into the space of architecture and a process of mapping the self-evident features of the architectural experience onto the reality of a given space. In the case of 100 Copper Square the piece is an intervention in that it occupies formerly empty floor space while also highlighting the dimensions of the space by virtue of the repeated, orderly grid that maps the existing space and serving, as Carl Andre intended, to create an ongoing discussion between the work and its place.
Born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1935, Andre has cited that city of granite quarries, cutting yards and shipyards as being responsible for some of his earliest and most vivid experiences. Because his father's family were bricklayers, carpenters, and shipbuilders, the artist naturally began to use industrial materials as his artistic medium. After studying art at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Andre served in the US Army before his move to New York City in 1956. It was in New York that the artist met Constantin Brancusi and became reacquainted with his former classmate Frank Stella. It seems likely that many of Andre's early totemic sculptures may have been inspired by Brancusi, but it was only later that Andre began to produce his pure, simple forms and transitioned them to the horizontal plane.