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Seeing beauty in basics

Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre makes the material the star.

November 27, 2007|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

Sculptors, Andre says, "are considered to be oafs -- too stupid to make paintings," but sculpture was right for him. And in 1965, after working for four years in New Jersey as a brakeman and conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad, he made a breakthrough that has sustained him to this day.

"The railroad was a great mine of materials," he says. "These endless cars of scrap metal would go through and a lot of it would fall off the trains. I could also do what we called 'night requisitioning.' It was a great source of materials, and all free.

"The floor pieces started while I was working on the railroad because I could get plates and the only sensible thing to do with them, as far as I could see, was to put them on the floor. It wasn't a eureka moment." But it changed the way he thought about art. "Because I worked with freight cars and diesel engines that weighed many tons, I was never tempted by monumentality," he says. "I got that out of my system."

With a tome-like resume of exhibitions, Andre considers himself extraordinarily fortunate to have been affiliated with "not necessarily the most famous, but the best galleries" since the 1960s, including Tibor de Nagy and Paula Cooper in New York, Virginia Dwan in Los Angeles and New York, and Ace in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

There's a dark chapter that he doesn't discuss -- a three-year period, 1985 to 1988, when he was indicted and finally acquitted of the murder of his wife, artist Ana Mendieta, who fell, jumped or was pushed out a window of their 34th-story apartment in New York.

The widely publicized legal proceedings sharply divided the art world and what actually happened remains a mystery. He is now married to painter Melissa Kretschmer, whose work is on view on the second floor at Ace. And an international traveling retrospective of his work is being planned.

"I've been so lucky," he says. "I look back now and it was like a series of pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But you know why that was true? Because that was the early '60s. Art hadn't come into fashion. The only people involved in the art world loved art. It is so different now. Art is a form of social climbing. There was a very small, very tight-knit community back then. There was no money, but you didn't need much."

suzanne.muchnic@latimes.com

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Carl Andre 'Zinc'

Where: Ace Gallery Beverly Hills, 9430 Wilshire Blvd.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Ends: Feb. 16

Price: Free

Contact: (310) 858-9090 or www.ace gallery.net

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