Carl Andre (Quincy, USA, 1935) is one of the key figures of Minimal Art, developed at the beginning of the Sixties in the USA. The artist has fashioned his own highly recognisable style, taking the literal nature of the materials to the extreme in the development of his sculptures as his work pays heed to the fundamental principles of the movement.
The writings of Ezra Pound on Constantin Brancusi and his friendship with the painter Frank Stella underline Carl Andre's beginnings and open up for him a new way of understanding sculptural subject matter. In 1956 he moves to New York where he produces his first sculptures, small wooden objects given texture through burning, scraping and sanding. During the spring of 1959 he works with sizable pieces of wood due to the inspiration he finds in Brancusi's large-scale sculptures and columns as they provide him with a model with which to leave the wood unsanded and unite the sculpture directly with the ground. Another of the latent, yet influential, experiences in his career is the impact of his visit to Stonehenge during a trip to Europe in 1954.
The instability of sculptural work doesn't allow Andre to make ends meet and in 1960 he starts working on the railway in Pennsylvania as a freight brakeman. He works in this profession for four years, in which time it constitutes, as the artist himself acknowledges, one of the biggest formative influences on his work, freeing him from the pretensions of art and bringing him into contact with large and heavy-duty materials.
In 1971 he makes Element Series, the first works of maturity embodying two principles in his subsequent work as the pieces are neither cut nor joined. Robert Morris and Donald Judd, the cornerstones of Minimalism, provide Andre with examples of low and horizontal directions and he grasps the effectiveness of spreading his work over the earth, rather than raising large vertical pieces, thus allowing him to gain stability and surface.
This installation in the Palacio de Cristal in the Retiro Park encapsulates Carl Andre's learnings within Minimalism and the culmination of his choices as an artist in terms of space, form, mass, number and materials.
With a thickness of half a centimetre, and in plates of steel measuring one metre by one metre, he builds Roaring Forties, a work made up of five sculptures laid out on the ground whereby the metal plates are grouped together according to different measurements.
The first sculpture comprises 47 metal plates laid out one on top of the other, generating a large path that traverses the Pabellón from one side to the other, inviting a mobile perspective to be adopted that makes the visitor move around or on top of it. The work 2 x 23, a fifty percent reduction from the previous, is made up of a line of 23 plates composed by the width of two metal plates placed in relation to the previous line. The perception of the sculptures as a path is lost as width is gained. Therefore, the pieces 4 x 12 and 5 x 9 delve more deeper into the conception of mass than space, finally reaching the complete square of the 7 x 7 sculpture.
In this instance, the metal plates serve to construct and move inside space. They do not sculpt in the sense of cutting and removing the subject matter until the form is reached, but “take up” space through mass in the most efficient way possible, keeping the quantity of the material and manipulation to a minimum; that is, instead of imposing material properties they reveal those properties already present.
The installation stands out for being made exclusively for the Pabellón de Cristal with the aim of maximising the idiosyncrasies of the exhibition space, just as Richard Long does in 1986 in the same place.