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meIn 1976, Tate announced in its half-yearly report that it had acquired Carlo Andrea’s Equivalent VIII, a 1966 sculpture made up of 120 ordinary firebricks. Pale bricks, stacked two deep in a neat rectangle, six bricks wide and 10 long, lie directly on the floor of the gallery. The Tate still occasionally shows them as a classic example of minimalist art. If viewers look down while avoiding their terse, unrelenting, low-key presence, there’s not much to stop them from doing. It’s a statement, if not a very profound one.

Neither particularly conflicting nor endearing, the domesticity of the materials and their arrangement is unlikely to provoke a shrug, much less an argument. If there was once a mystery as to why they were there in the first place, it is long gone. This is what some artists did then and still do now. In the gallery, we are used to provocations of all kinds. But Andrei’s bricks – which became known as the Tate bricks – caused great controversy for a long time, generating newspaper headlines, heated arguments and numerous caricatures and humorous photographs. Bricklayers offered to make versions at a reduced price, and the Daily Mirror published photos of smiling bricklayers with their versions of Andre’s sculpture under the headline “ARTYCRAFTY: brickbat boys on construction site”. Oh, how we laughed.

All eight of Andre’s equivalent sculptures used the same number of similar bricks arranged in various configurations, although none were as fanciful as the herringbone patterns and decorative squares of London building brick depicted in the Mirror. Andrej’s statue also became the basis of an attack on Labour’s cultural policy by the Conservative opposition. Andre’s Equivalent sculptures take their title from Alfred Stieglitz’s famous series of cloud photographs, and were inspired, like much of his work, by the four years he spent on the Pennsylvania Railroad as a brakeman, splicing and shunting freight car chains in the early 1960s . In addition to earning money, the work distanced him from the pretensions of art, he said. The grandfather and uncle were bricklayers and building contractors, although this fact never made it into the British press.

Andre made sculptures and wrote poems as if he were arranging and rearranging wagons loaded with steel, wood and coal. He stacked things and put them away and arranged them in neat rows, squares and rectangles. Sometimes they made a detour. All of this related to his work at the freight yards and the larger context of his urban, industrial background in Massachusetts. During his teenage years, the boy from Quincy, Massachusetts, also visited his aunt in England and went to see Stonehenge. This and subsequent visits to the Kyoto gardens remained lasting influences.

It was all a long time ago, and Andre’s death in hospice at the age of 88 makes the ideas and idealisms of minimal art seem like the passions of another era, now thoroughly assimilated, digested, analyzed and critiqued. Whether you recognized them as art or not, it would be easy to stumble upon Andre’s low stacks as you made your way through the gallery to look at something else. Viewers in the 1960s were not used to having to look down at art so close to the ground. Soon, Andre began making scattered pieces of tile and lines and grids of zinc, aluminum, and steel sheets that viewers were actually invited to walk on. They were quite beautiful, although they were torn or scratched by people’s shoes. About more than just the display of materials, in all their variety and diversity – the muted metallic gray, with their shifts in reflectivity, in warmth, weight and mass – space, and the idea of ​​sculpture as space, was the heart of what he did. For a long time, Andrej’s career continued apace with museum exhibitions, prestigious galleries and acres of educational exhibitions. He and Minimalism were canonized, although, like Richard Serra, he rejected the term.

Somehow, the younger artists, like his audience, had to find ways to negotiate with Andrei without stumbling or stumbling. He was referring to Taoism and the simple idea of ​​being there and slowing down. Regardless of how radical it once was and regardless of the achievements of his sculpture and how seductive and understated it could be, Andrei’s work has had diminishing returns over the past half century. Artistic consistency and rigor can feel like repetition, more of the same. But no one went to Andrej to look for news. It is always the same and always as different as a view of the sea.

If you run into Andrej when you turn the corner in the gallery, it can be a nice surprise. But for all the minor controversies it caused, it became nearly impossible to look down at Andre’s bricks, walk across his sheet metal floors, or stare at his structures of hewn ash and cedar wood without thinking of the death of the young Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta, Andre’s third wife, who died in a fall from Andre’s 34th floor apartment in lower Manhattan one night in September 1985.

They were both drinking and were alone. Neighbors heard them arguing. Mendieta was 36 years old and they had been married for eight months. Two days later, Andre was charged with her death. He was never found guilty. After Mendieta’s death, Andre’s career faltered. He was called “the OJ of the art world” after OJ Simpson, and his shows were outraged. At one opening in New York, more than 500 protesters showed up with placards reading “Where is Ana Mendieta?”

Some of his friends defended him (notably Frank Stella helped pay his bail and defense), while others cut him off. Andre continued to live in the same apartment and remarry, but his personal and artistic reputation never fully recovered. Dementia set in in his last years. Major museum exhibitions in Europe continued after Mendieta’s death, while in North America they dried up for nearly a quarter of a century. For a long time, catalog essays avoided mentioning Mendieta’s death, regardless of the seriousness.

Andre’s art had limits and limitations. He did what he did in every way, and he had little contact with the academics and theorists who played such a role in his artistic rise. He remains a divisive figure. In 2022, American curator and writer Helen Molesworth recorded a long series of podcasts examining Mendieta’s death. It is the most complete account of what could have happened that night and its consequences at the time, and in light of the #MeToo movement and today’s cultural politics.

A dissection of art world conventions, money, morality and righteous indignation, Molesworth’s Death of an Artist is much more than a smear of one man’s reputation and tackles the problems we now face with his art. Can you still enjoy the work of an artist you personally despise? Molesworth is never to be taken lightly, and this utterly fascinating exploration of personal and artistic world politics does a great job of dealing with the ambiguities and ambivalences of Andre’s life and art, which remain inseparable.

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