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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Copying Art, Part 2

posted by on June 11 at 11:00 AM

Last week I posted here about about a piece I wrote for Newsweek on why museums sometimes exhibit copies of artworks rather than originals.

I added an anecdote about the Getty’s copies of Allan Kaprow’s activity books in that Slog post, and here’s another anecdote I ran into while doing the reporting.

It turns out that Carl Andre copied one of his own works to cancel out the original because he felt the original was being so mistreated.

Andre “completely disowned” his original, declaring it “a corpse.”

“And to force the point, he had the sculpture remade, displaying it in his own counter-exhibition, in an ugly, disused warehouse space in downtown New York. So for one month in the spring of 1976, intrepid enthusiasts of contemporary sculpture had the chance to visit two identical versions of 29th Copper Cardinal, both made from identical copper plates, and both passing as Carl Andre sculptures.

This story was related by Alistair Rider, an art historian working on a book about Andre, at the Tate’s fascinating conference last year on sculptural replication.

I emailed Rider to ask for elaboration, and here’s what he wrote back:

1. CA is invited to install 12th Copper Corner at the Whitney museum for inclusion in ‘200 Years of American Sculpture.’ He goes into the museum with the Whitney staff and selects a corner for his work. The piece is photographed for the catalogue (200 Years of American Sculpture, ed. by Tom Armstrong, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1976). The work is an unsold piece, but he and his gallery are hopeful that the Whitney will buy.

2. In March, just before the show’s opening, Andre pops into the museum to check up on the piece. He discovers it has been moved to another corner, which in his view is not so appropriate. There is a window in one of the walls and a fire escape with a neon sign that casts a reflection on the surface. At the earlier location, the walls had been blank.

3. Andre asks for 12th Copper Corner to be moved back to the original location. The gallery designers Venturi & Rausch refuse, and so Andre withdraws the piece from the show.

4. The Whitney is now in a fix. They feel Andre is too important an artist not to be represented, so they include a replacement work, which in this instance they do ownó29th Copper Cardinal. They install this, and Andre comes to have a look at it.

5. Andre dislikes the presentation: to counteract the uneven floor in the gallery, the curators have installed it on a rubber mat, which in his mind destroys the effect of the piece entirely. (Nowadays it’s common practice to install his larger pieces on matsóbut that’s another matter.)

6. Andre asks them to withdraw this piece as well. The Whitney refuse and argue that he has no moral rights over the piece, because they own the piece.

7. Andre is furious and offers to buy back the work for £26,000. Initially it had cost £23,000. But the Whitney never responded to his request.

8. So Andre remakes 29th Copper Cardinal and installs it alongside 12th Copper Corner in a warehouse Rosemarie Castoro has procured for him on West Broadway.

And that’s how one 29th Copper Cardinal came to be two.

Here’s an installation shot of 12th Copper Corner at the Whitney along with Andre’s (wonderfully histrionic) postcard response to the situation.



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What a prima donna. Michaelangelo's David was situated beneath a waterspout of the Duomo for decades: that's poor placement.

This is a slippery slope. If artists can "disown" a work they then make it valueless. This creates a dilemma for a purchaser: Why pay good money for an object that the artist may disown because he doesn't like the environment in which it is kept. An artist who gets a reputation for disowning is going to devalue his entire body of work.

Posted by inkweary | June 11, 2008 11:19 AM

Slaves do not willingly submit themselves to the marketplace. If Andre didn't want people to have control over his (terrible) art, he had a perfect option: don't sell it.

Posted by Fnarf | June 11, 2008 11:58 AM

ahh, minimalism. will you ever stop boring me?

Posted by max solomon | June 11, 2008 12:02 PM

Am I the only one who finds Carl Andre 13 kinds of awesome?

Posted by genevieve | June 11, 2008 12:07 PM

It seems like this whole drama just made the sculpture more famous, and therefore increasing its market value. Which is not saying he shouldn't have made the copy.

Posted by elenchos | June 11, 2008 12:38 PM

what i dont get is what makes the sculpture so great. It's a bunch of copper plates on the ground, right? I could do that. i hate this kind of art that takes no fucking skill. will some art nerd please enlightenme as to why I should like this peice or even find it remotly interesting?

Posted by Philly | June 11, 2008 1:05 PM

@6: because of the THOUGHT that it embodies. you COULD do it, but you didn't. Carl Andre did it, and backed it up with a blizzard of theory. For even more irritating minimalist art, look up Lawrence Weiner.

Posted by max solomon | June 11, 2008 1:08 PM


You mean enlightenment other than the whole freaking article Jen Graves wrote about it? If you can't be bothered to make the effort to read then there is no chance you will ever find this kind of thing interesting. Which is not a crime; just quite bitching as if you're owed an explanation.

Posted by elenchos | June 11, 2008 1:14 PM

I made a copy of this piece when I was at Home Depot trying to decide whether to go with the cheap lino tiles.

Posted by Fnarf | June 11, 2008 1:24 PM

"My son puked a Pollock." There's half a century of this critique of modern art, and the critique never developed into anything other than a quip, and nobody changed how they make art in response to it, so could it be time to give it a rest?

Also, Fnarf, you're confusing property with copyright. They differ.

Posted by Eric F | June 11, 2008 2:41 PM

No, I'm not. I never ended up buying the tiles. I just laid them out in Andre's exact pattern here, and then started shouting "I will not be a slave! I am a Free Man!" until they threw me out.

Posted by Fnarf | June 11, 2008 3:40 PM

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