Round Bar of Wood 1973 is a wooden baton composed of fifty-two segments painted red (R), white (W), yellow (Y) and green (G) in the following sequence: RWYG WRYG WYRG WYGR YWRG YGWR YGRW GYRW GRYW GRWY RGWY RWGY RWYG. Cadere’s deliberate error in this sequence is the switching of green and red in the fifth grouping of four colours: ‘YWRG’ should be, in fact, ‘YWGR’ if the system were to fulfil its proper pattern in which one colour always moves through a particular permutation of the other three colours. The last sequence of the four colours (RWYG) is identical to the first group, reflecting Cadere’s belief ‘that a pole “terminated naturally” when the first group of colours reappeared’ (Bourdon 1978, p.103).
Cadere was born in Warsaw in 1934, of Romanian and French descent. Having spent some years in Portugal, his family returned to Romania after the Second World War and there he attended the Academy of Bucharest. In 1967 Cadere moved to Paris where he pursued a career as an artist, developing an individual conceptual practice which focused on barres de bois rond (round bars of wood). Informed by op art and growing trends in minimalism and conceptual art, Cadere developed his first barre de bois in 1970. The batons became the principal prop within his performative events. With a baton in hand, the artist would infiltrate art gallery and museum openings to which he had not been invited. Alternatively, a baton would appear leaning against a wall in an exhibition in which his work was not meant to be included. As well as bringing his batons into the art world, Cadere also presented them in public spaces (including restaurants and subways), announcing ‘exhibitions’ where he would appear between specific hours every day over a certain period of time, engaging passers-by with discussions about his baton and art.
Despite the performative aspect of his work, Cadere viewed the batons as vital objects in their own right. He relished the fact that their cylindrical forms had no specific orientation and referred to them as ‘paintings’, noting that colour formed an ‘essential function … to differentiate objects’:
In a strict sense, we can only see differently coloured surfaces all around us. It is possible to say on this basic level that painting (colour applied to a surface) is an essential part of the artistic phenomena. To understand this work by how it looks gives the work’s appearance a privileged relationship. The painting that distinguishes the segments tries to show this relationship. The colour is applied to a cylindrical surface. This work, unlike other paintings, does not have two sides. Being cylindrical it has neither front nor back.
(Quoted in Armstrong, Lisbon and Melville 2001, p.90.)
By 1972 Cadere had refined his construction process, creating batons composed of a series of painted wooden cylinders joined together through the centre with wooden doweling and glue. While the batons themselves vary in length and diameter, the length of each individual segment is always equal to its radius. Working from a palette of eight colours (the three primary colours, three secondary colours, and black and white), Cadere used a mathematical permutation to determine the sequence in which the chosen colours would appear in each baton. However, he actively interrupted this system by introducing a deliberate error. Cadere sustained the same, consistent practice until his premature death in 1978 and around 180 of his barres de bois are known to have survived.
The baton is accompanied by a certificate dated 20 October 1973, which, like all Cadere’s dates, refers to the date the baton was first circulated rather than when it was made. The certificate also includes the unique code which Cadere assigned each of his batons once circulated, in this case, ‘B 02301004 =30= =22x23=’. While this code appears to reflect the mathematical permutation Cadere employed, he never explained the system he utilised. The resulting mystery is an important aspect of the artist’s subversive game-playing. Indeed, the introduction of disturbance into the mathematical sequence itself may be seen as paralleling Cadere’s desire to challenge the art world and its institutions, which he believed mirrored broader social systems.
David Bourdon, ‘André Cadere, 1934–1978’, Arts Magazine, no.3, November 1978, pp.102–3.
Philip Armstrong, Laura Lisbon and Stephen Melville, As Painting: Division and Displacement, exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus 2001.