Over fifteen metres in length, Venus Forge 1980 is a sculpture made from thin metal plates positioned in a long rectangular formation on the gallery floor. Running through the centre of the sculpture are seventy-seven and a half small square copper sheets (the full size ones each measuring 20 by 20 cm). On either side of the copper sheets lie thirty-one larger squares of steel (each measuring 50 by 50 cm). The two sets of metal plates, which have considerably different patinas, were acquired by the artist in their present form and arranged into this composition without joining them or altering them physically.
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 Venus Forge, 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 titles of Andre’s sculptures, which the artist claims are ‘mainly useful for sorting out one work from another’ (quoted in Beudert and Rainbird 1998, p.75), often avoid any explicit references beyond a basic description of the work’s materials and form (see, for example, 144 Magnesium Square 1969, Tate T01767). However, allusions to classical mythology do appear in titles throughout his career, and Andre has explained his choice of Venus Forge for this work: ‘Cyprus was an ancient source of copper and gave the metal its name. Venus was born on the shores of Cyprus and Copper is her alchemical metal. Steel is for Haephestus her husband and Mars her lover’ (quoted in Beudert and Rainbird 1998, p.75). With this in mind the sculpture may be seen to resemble a long chute with molten metal running through it, and the title might also relate to the processes of heating and shaping metal in a forge, as well as evoking notions of creation.
The linear composition of Venus Forge 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.
Venus Forge is one of four sculptures that Andre made in Düsseldorf for a solo exhibition at the Konrad Fischer Gallery, which opened in May 1980.
Eva Meyer-Hermann (ed.), Carl Andre Sculptor 1996, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Stuttgart 1996, p.266.
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.17.
Paula Feldman, Alistair Rider and Karsten Schubert (eds.), About Carl Andre: Critical Texts Since 1965, London 2006.
Supported by Christie’s.