Friday, December 01, 2006
Andre and Smith: Americans in Paris
What to make of these two out in front of the Louvre. David Smith and Carl Andre. Sr. and Jr. The Modernist leading the way to Minimalist. Smith taking up the torch of European Modernism(read Picasso), and Andre, what, the dead end, the killer, the cold hard last stop, the bridge too far. Ironically Andre looked the more comfortable of the two. Hiding in the grass. Snake in the grass. Cool. Elegant. Safe. Coiled. Invulnerable. Smith much more human, of course. How could he not be? Bold. And again, ironically, looking more American. A little awkward. Ill-fitting suit. A little showy. So the pioneer American sculptor looking a little out of place. As it should be. Andre, the preppie from Andover, very smart. Very smart. Too smart for his own good, thus he painted himself into a corner with his “floor tiles,” and really left himself nowhere to go. Really jumped with both feet fast and hard, claiming the turf for himself, but unlike LeWitt, unable to reinvent himself. More the sculptor, less the conceptualist. It is the old issue of “brand” and “branding” that gets so many artists in trouble. Establish the brand and you’ve got it made. Establish the brand and unleash the curse. The beginning end the end. Stella had a second act. Pretty amazing.
David Smith, of course, like Pollock, clearly transcended and repaid his debt to Picasso. The spring board that turned swan dive in both cases. Both, however, enjoyed unfolding and evolving bodies of work. They did not just happen. Abstract Expressions was the “happening.” The ing was important. Andre’s work, like Intelligent Design, just happened. Didn't evolve like Smith. Made it more godlike and not Darwinian. More arrogant. More elite, and thus less approachable. Another reason Smith suffers a more human appearance by contrast. Andre’s grey flannelled cool from on high. Smith’s jaunty free spirit/maverick out alone in the universe, facing the elements on Bolton Landing.
Although they made unlikely companions, their association was fruitful. Americans in Paris. Old School and newer Old School. A thousand light years from Delacroix. They always say artists from different periods, from the past, would recognize their equals. I don’t necessarily agree. Issues of form can be transcendant, but other qualities may not be so sympathetic, and may not travel so well. Greatness as a transcendent force smacks of a kind of clubby elitism. Who decides? Delacroix was so “hot” and pushed the Romantic discourse so far left. Hard to deny something pretty great there. Andre is so classical, so right, so conservative really. I don't think he'll make it. Smith is out on his own. Out in space. Classical and Romantic at once. Maybe somewhere in between, maybe outside the discourse. Greatness in his bones. A free man in Paris.