Illustrated companion

It is clear from the variety of materials employed by Carl Andre in his sculpture and from the way in which he presents those materials intact, held together simply by gravity and inertia, that the materials themselves are the starting point for the sculpture and to a large extent determine its form. In this respect Andre is extending one of the most important doctrines of early modern sculpture, originating from Brancusi, that of 'truth to materials'. In conversation with a group of Tate Gallery curators in 1972, shortly after the acquisition of 'Equivalent VIII', Andre said: 'Everyone derives their material from somewhere; I think only the Almighty Himself ever created something out of nothing, so everyone begins somewhere. But I find that because of the method of my working, I don't start with an idea or concept or a drawing or anything like that, I have to start with a set of physical realities that I order in a way which I find satisfying to me. So I have to go and, as I said, the open end of my work is scavenging but not necessarily conscious scavenging; just walking through the streets of the city and coming upon construction sites and finding groups of material and taking them. And often I have these groups sitting on the floor and I try to figure out what is the sort of the just combination of these pieces, and sometimes it just doesn't happen and I get rid of them again'.

The bricks for 'Equivalent VIII' were found at a brickworks in Long Island City, New York. They were sand-lime bricks which Andre described as 'a kind of mechanical limestone; it's a very nice material'. Because the sculpture did not sell when originally exhibited he returned the bricks to the yard and got his money back. Later in 1969 he reconstituted the work but the brickworks had closed. He was able to find a similar fire-brick which satisfied his requirements, in particular that the bricks should be solid and light in colour, unlike common house bricks which are red and hollowed out on the surface.

Andre commonly works in series and 'Equivalent VIII' is the eighth and last of the series he made from bricks. Its title refers to the fact that although each sculpture is in a different rectangular configuration, each is made from the same number of bricks, 120, and each therefore has the same mass or volume - they are equivalent in that respect. The series to which '144 Magnesium Square' [Tate Gallery T01767] belongs is equivalent in the opposite respect: all are the same configuration (square) but different in materials. Andre arrived at the number of 120 bricks for each piece since it is rich in factors, that is in the combinations of two whole numbers which when multiplied give 120. This gave the possibility of a substantial series of works of different configurations from the same number of bricks. For reason of sculptural unity Andre decided to stack the bricks in two layers of 60 thus halving the number of factors. However, because bricks can be laid either end on (header) or longways (stretcher) each factor had two possible configurations: 'Equivalent VIII' is 6 header x 10 stretcher; 'Equivalent VII' is 6 stretcher x 10 header and is almost square in shape. A total of twelve different combinations was possible but Andre only ever made eight since that was the number that fitted the space at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York where these works were first exhibited in 1966. Before this Andre's work had been vertical in form; the form given to the brick pieces is very specifically related to Andre's new concern at that time for qualities of lowness and flatness that were inspired by the experience of canoeing on a lake in New Hampshire in the summer of 1965. The 1966 Equivalents exhibition included another group of low works made from ceramic magnets, even lower than the bricks. In 1972 Andre remembered 'whereas the sensation of these [the brick] pieces was that they come above your ankles, as if you were wading in bricks, the feeling of these was that it was just about the top of the soles of your shoes. It was like stepping from water of one depth to water of another depth'. Andre has also related the brick pieces to his experience of 'a Japanese raked sand garden', in Kyoto.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.259