Carl Andre

144 Magnesium Square


Not on display

Carl Andre born 1935
Object: 10 × 3658 × 3658 mm
Purchased 1973


144 Magnesium Square 1969 is composed of 144 thin magnesium plates, each measuring 12 by 12 inches, arranged into a square on the gallery floor. It is one of six works composed in an identical arrangement but in different metals by the American sculptor Carl Andre. The first three works in the series, made of aluminium, steel and zinc, were initially shown at the Dwan Gallery, New York, in 1967, while the other three, composed of magnesium, copper and lead, were produced for his 1969 exhibition at the same gallery. The materials used in the series are presented in their raw state, without physical alteration by the artist. Visitors are allowed to walk over this and the other sculptures in this series.

Comparing 144 Magnesium Square with 144 Lead Square 1969 (now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York), Nicholas Serota, then Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, wrote in 1978:

Comparison of two squares of differing metals focuses attention on the properties of the material. The 144 lead and magnesium squares look the ‘same’ but the lead square weighs nearly 3,300 lbs while the magnesium square weighs only 500 lbs. Colour is quite different and before oxidization the magnesium square reflected and diffused light, while lead absorbed all the light that played on it. Walking on them one hears different sounds and can feel different textures and on close examination the resilience of the magnesium with its sharp edge contrasts with the soft and increasingly rounded edges of the lead.
(Nicholas Serota, ‘Matter’, in Whitechapel Art Gallery 1978, unpaginated).

The attention to the properties and uses of industrial elements demonstrated by 144 Magnesium Square and the rest of the series may be seen as an aspect of Andre’s wider political outlook and commitment to Marxism, which led him to participate in artists’ strikes and other industrial actions in the late 1960s. Rather than shaping his materials like a traditional craftsman, Andre simply arranged the plates, an activity not unlike the labour of a factory worker on a production line. In a 1970 interview he claimed:

The forms of my work have never particularly interested me. What has been my search really is for a material, a particle of a material. It’s finding a material or a unit of material like a brick of the right size and the right shade and density and so forth – from finding this particle, I would combine it with others to make a work.
(Carl Andre, Cuts: Texts 1959–2004, ed. James Meyer, Cambridge, MA 2005, p.99.)

With its emphasis on geometrical forms and industrial materials, Andre’s work may also be assessed within the broader context of 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.

After its initial display at the Dwan Gallery in 1969, this work was shown as 144 Magnesium Plates (and dated spring 1969) in Andre’s solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1970 (Diane Waldman, Carl Andre, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1970, reproduced p.50). It was purchased by Tate in 1973, and a certificate written by the artist at the time refers to the work as ‘Magnesium Piece’ and ‘144 Magnesium Plates’. In 1975 Tate referred to the work as 144 Magnesium Plates, Spring – the word ‘spring’ having originated in the Guggenheim catalogue (The Tate Gallery 1972–4: Biennial Report and Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1975, pp.74–5). The title of the work appears to have been formalised between 1975 and 1978, when the work was shown as 144 Magnesium Square at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.

Further reading
Carl Andre: Sculpture 1959–78, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1978, reproduced plate 11.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art Other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, pp.13–14, reproduced p.13.
Alistair Rider, Carl Andre: Things in Their Elements, London 2011, pp.79–89.

David Hodge
March 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Andre's metal floor sculptures are intended to be walked on. This example is one of a series made between 1967 and 1975, each using a different metal. The 12-inch magnesium squares are arranged into 12 rows of 12, to create a larger square with a total of 144 units. Moving over the square brings an awareness of the texture of the magnesium plates. Andre accepted that the surface of the work would be altered by visitors' footsteps, observing that it 'becomes its own record of everything that's happened to it'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Carl Andre born 1935

T01767 144 Magnesium Square 1969

Not inscribed
144-unit square, magnesium, 3/8 x 12 x 12 (1 x 30.5 x 30.5) each, 3/8 x 144 x 144 (1 x 366 x 366) overall
Purchased from Heiner Friedrich through the Lisson Gallery, London (Grant-in-Aid) 1973
Prov: Through Dwan Gallery, New York; with Ace Gallery, Vancouver and Los Angeles; Mr and Mrs Thomas G. Terbell, Jr., Pasadena; through Comsky Gallery, Los Angeles; with Galerie Onnasch, Cologne; with Heiner Friedrich, Cologne
Exh: Carl Andre, Dwan Gallery, New York, April-May 1969 (no catalogue); Carl Andre, Guggenheim Museum, New York, September-November 1970 (26, repr. in colour) as '144 Magnesium Plates. Spring 1969'; City Art Museum, Saint Louis, May-June 1971 (26, repr. in colour); Carl Andre: Sculpture 1959-78, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, March-April 1978 (11, repr.)
Lit: Phyllis Tuchman, 'An Interview with Carl Andre' in Artlorum, VIII, June 1970, pp.55-61; exh. catalogue Carl Andre: Sculpture 1958-1974, Kunsthalle, Bern, April-June 1975, No.1969-2, p.37 as '144 Magnesium Square'
Repr: Burlington Magazine, CXVIII, 1976, p.765

Andre has made six versions of this floor piece - a square made up of 144 metal plates each 12in (30.5cm) square - each with a different metal. The first three, in aluminium, steel and zinc, were made in 1967 and were first exhibited at the Dwan Gallery, New York, in December 1967-January 1968; the others, made in the spring of 1969 in copper, magnesium and lead, were shown there in April-May 1969. All of them now belong to museums, as follows:

aluminium: Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena
steel: Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt
zinc: Milwaukee Art Center, Wisconsin
copper: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
magnesium: Tate Gallery
lead: Museum of Modern Art, New York
The artist thinks it unlikely that he will add to this series, as all the other metals are too costly.

The Gallery also has a certificate for this work on squared paper, with the following inscription in the artist's hand: 'MAGNESIUM PIECE | 144 MAGNESIUM PLATES | 3/8" x 12" x 12" EACH | 3/8" x 144" x 144" OVERALL | 12 PLATES x 12 PLATES | NEW YORK | 1969 | ca [monogram]'.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.13-14, reproduced p.13

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