Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - Passport

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Image of Passport

Carl Andre , b. Sep 16, 1935

Passport

1960
11 in. x 8 1/2 in. (27.94 cm x 21.59 cm)

Medium and Support: Bound volume of ninety-five pages of collage, graphite, and ink plus one cover sheet
Credit Line: Gift of the artist (PA 1953)
Accession Number: 1983.35.1-99

Commentary

The making of Passport, during the spring of 1960, commemorated a number of transitions in Carl Andre's life. The artist has himself described the book as a "geological course sample drilled through [his] brain."1 The theme of passage, alluded to by the title, is central to this inaugural work; throughout its pages are fragments of the actual passport and visas from Andre's trip to Europe in I954. There he encountered Stonehenge and other Neolithic monuments for the first time; the massive stones, arranged in mysterious configurations, forced a recognition of their physical presence. Passport is a demonstration of the artist's materialist point of view, his taste for the obdurately material, for matter as such. Strips of gold and silver foil culled from cigarette packages line its pages, along with other objects: photographs, postcards, pages from books. In short, Passport is a collage, and thus alludes to the modernist legacy of this technique, which stresses the materiality of pictorial and poetic substance. In the Cubist papier collé, the pasted paper and word fragment refer to their own literal presence and to that of the page to which they are attached. As signs, moreover, these units are bound up in the semantic structure of the collage. In the Cantos of Ezra Pound, mentor of Andre's Andover roommate Hollis Frampton, fragments of different languages line up like impenetrable ciphers, obdurate shards of meaning resistant to legibility yet richly polysemous. The work of Gertrude Stein, another writer admired by Andre, also rejected the transparency of a syntactical framework (the sentence that straightforwardly states its case, says what it means) for rows of repeated word units arranged bricklike across the page.

Recalling these works, Passport also exposes the material nature of visual and linguistic signs through strategies of syntactical disruption and repetition. Each page presents one or two words or images, signs discrete unto themselves yet integrated into the larger semantic whole. On one page, for example, the word "Green" is repeated again and again to comprise a rectangular field, losing its grammatical function as adjective to become the building block of a paratactic word lattice.

At the same time, the influence of certain precedents (Stein, Pound) could lead to the rejection of others (the papier collé). Just as Andre's own later sculpture, with its repeated units of unjoined bricks and metal plates, has been described as "post-Cubist" in its rejection of the subjective, compositional welding techniques of David Smith and Anthony Caro, so we might characterize Passport as "post-Cubist" collage, a scrapbook or album: the composed pictorial field of pictures and words of the papier collé (along with the descriptive function it implied) is transformed into a serially formatted book of discrete signifiers, read not at once but in temporal succession.

Another presence in Passport is Frank Stella. As Andre has stated on many occasions, it was under Stella's tutelage that his own position matured: the Stonehenge epiphany could be reconciled with a contemporary sculptural production. Sharing a studio in downtown Manhattan during the fall and winter of I958-59, Stella created the Black and Aluminum paintings while Andre cut his first works of notched wooden beams. Frampton recorded these activities in a remarkable suite of photographs. (Two of these images, depicting an assortment of Andre's destroyed Ladders and Python, appear in Passport.) What was the nature of Stella's lesson? In "Preface to Stripe Painting," his statement on Stella's work for the "Sixteen Americans" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in I959, Andre observed: "Art excludes the unnecessary. Frank Stella has found it necessary to paint stripes. There is nothing else in his painting." In the Black and Aluminum works, the stripe pattern mimics the shape of the support or the contours of a pregiven figure. And indeed in Passport a silver crayon drawing after the Black painting Jill clearly demonstrates this deductive logic. Passport also contains Stella's most important statement on stripe painting, the notes and diagrams of a lecture given in 1960 at the Pratt Institute, New York, salvaged by Andre from a trash can. At the same time, Passport reveals precedents for Stella's and Andre's deductive procedures in early modernism: images of Brancusi's carved pedestals (whose structure of repeated units culminated in his Endless Column), or rectangular red and white pasted papers, allusions to Malevich's Red Square and White on White, works that introduced a radically motivated relation of abstract figure and ground.

There was a second lesson in Stella. "Frank Stella is not interested in expression or sensitivity," Andre continued. "Symbols are counters passed among people. Frank Stella's painting is not symbolic." One of the most striking innovations of the Black paintings was their rejection of emotive or tragic content—a slap in the face of an increasingly academicized Action Painting. Indeed, Passport contains several examples of "bad" (expressionist) art, including works by Andre himself (an ink drawing of a mournful face, a pseudo-Kirchner woodcut), and a humorous poem by Stella chiding Andre for these failed attempts. The shift of artistic context announced by Stella's Black paintings was thus a transition from second-generation Abstract Expressionism to a geometric, antisymbolic, materialist art, an art that would be called "minimal." This, then, was Stella's "ethical" lesson (to use Andre's term): the modernist artist aspires to achieve the level of quality of the finest work of the past only by not repeating its conventions. As if to demonstrate this perception, Passport includes numerous postcards of Old Master works—drawings by Goya, Gerard David's Deposition, a Bronzino portrait—gathered during visits with Stella to the Frick Collection in New York.

Passport is a homage to the intense partnership of Andre and Stella in 1958-59, and moreover an exploration of the broader theme of the overlap of creative inspiration and interpersonal feelings. Such bonds, often fruitful for the artist's work, are not always realized or socially permitted. Hence we find images of Lord Byron, whose connection to his half-sister led to exile; drawings and letters by Ralph Waldo Emerson concerning a younger classmate, a love never achieved; a brooding portrait of Hart Crane, who committed suicide. But Passport is also an epithalamion, a paean to realized love: the figurative union of Andre and Stella, or the actual marriage of Andre and his first wife, which occurred in December 1959. Allusions to this event abound: images of Arshile Gorky's Betrothal and Brancusi's Adam and Eve; pasted strips of the material used in the marriage bedspread made by Barbara Andre, an accomplished seamstress; mementos of the wedding breakfast (the papers from cigarette packages). Photographs taken by Frampton of the young couple also appear; one shot is humorously placed next to a reproduction of Stella's Marriage of Reason and Squalor, whose title Andre supplied. Weaving together these complex strands of personal and artistic biography, declaring, at an early point, Andre's materialist commitment, Passport is a prolegomenon: a passage into the mature production of sculpture and poetry that the artist has pursued ever since.

James Meyer, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 313-314


1. Carl Andre, conversation with the author.

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