Carl Andre

Steel Zinc Plain


Steel and zinc
Object: 9 x 1840 x 1840 mm, 250 kg
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996


Steel Zinc Plain 1969 is a sculpture by the American artist Carl Andre composed of eighteen zinc plates and eighteen steel plates, each measuring twelve by twelve inches, arranged into a square in a checkerboard pattern. The metal plates were acquired by the artist in their present form and arranged into this composition without joining them or altering them physically.

This work was previously part of a much larger sculpture, 37 Pieces of Work 1970, which was produced for the first retrospective of Andre’s work, held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1970 (reproduced in Kunsthalle Bern 1975, p.42). 37 Pieces of Work was made up of 1,296 square metal plates – 216 each of aluminium, copper, steel, magnesium, lead and zinc – arranged in a thirty-six by thirty-six grid formation. It was positioned on the ground floor in the building’s central atrium so that it was visible from the museum’s famous spiral ramp. The title 37 Pieces of Work proposed that this one unit was made from thirty-six smaller units (each made of thirty-six metal plates), constituting thirty-seven in total. After the Guggenheim exhibition 37 Pieces of Work was disaggregated into these thirty-six individual works, which are named after their composite materials.

Andre moved to New York in 1957 and began making sculptures in 1958. These mainly consisted of large, often vertically oriented structures comprising cut and stacked blocks of wood or plastic (see, for instance, Last Ladder 1959, Tate T01533). However, a period spent working on the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1960–4 and the resulting access to industrial materials prompted Andre to begin making works that used fabricated metals such as steel, copper, zinc and lead, and that were flat and horizontally presented, covering large areas of the floor. He encouraged viewers to walk directly upon these floor sculptures, such as Steel Zinc Plain, claiming that a physical connection with the works allowed for a fuller experience of their materials. In 1970 Andre said, ‘There are a number of properties which materials have which are conveyed by walking on them: there are things like the sound of a piece of work and its sense of friction ... I even believe that you can get a sense of mass, although this may be nothing but a superstition which I have’ (quoted in Meyer-Hermann 1996, p.48).

The ordered composition of Steel Zinc Plain (and of 37 Pieces of Work) is indicative of Andre’s interest in mathematical structures, geometric forms and seriality. These preoccupations, along with the use of industrial or mass-produced materials, became associated with minimalist art, which gained prominence in New York in the early 1960s. Andre’s work was included alongside that of other exponents of minimalism, such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, in the influential group show Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1966.

In 1981 37 Pieces of Work was recreated under Andre’s direction in Düsseldorf for an exhibition at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart. The new version was given the title 37th Piece of Work and re-dated 1969–1981, and is now owned by the François Pinault Foundation, Venice.

Further reading
Diane Waldman, Carl Andre, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1970, pp.20–1.
Carl Andre: Sculpture 1958–1974, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern 1975, pp.42–53, reproduced p.46.
Monique Beudert and Sean Rainbird (eds.), Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, pp.74–5, reproduced p.16.

David Hodge
May 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

As the title suggests, Steel Zinc Plain represents a territory or a space as much as an object. By placing it on the floor rather than on a plinth and allowing it to be walked across, Andre alters the viewer’s relationship to the work of art. Simple, geometric forms made from industrial materials are characteristic features of Andre’s sculptures.

Gallery label, February 2011