Tau and Threshold (Element Series)
1971
Carl Andre
American, born 1935

Western red cedar
60 x 36 x 12 inches

A central figure in the development of the movement known as Minimalism, Carl Andre creates art that involves the symmetrical arrangement of units of basic building materials, which he terms "particles" or "elements." Inspired by the elemental nature of Constantin Brancusi's sculpture from the early part of the twentieth century, Andre has pushed sculpture to a kind of ground zero.

Tau and Threshold (Element Series) of 1971 pays homage to [Brancusi's] Endless Column, while deconstructing sculpture into an even more basic configuration. Andre abandons carving altogether in favor of simply stacking identical wooden units in an I shape. This elegantly primitive configuration—evoking images from Stonehenge to children's building blocks—utilizes what he calls "anaxial symmetry," which involves the absolute interchangeability of standardized units. Andre devised the Element Series in the early 1960s with the suggestion that the same identical units could be used to create different configurations endlessly. . . .Tau and Threshold addresses the architectonic and figurative possibilities of sculptural form in a radically fundamental way.

Eventually Andre rejected the anthropomorphic associations of verticality altogether, creating structures whose primary characteristic is horizontality, exemplified by the artist's arrangements of 3/8-inch-high, one-foot-square metal plates. The most common of these are his well-known "Plains," originally part of the monumental sculpture 37 Pieces of Work, 1969.

Slit, 1981, is one of Andre's more expressive configurations, as well as one of the most revealing in regards to the artist's vision of an expanded space for sculpture. Consisting of parallel strands of steel plates bordering a thin line of small copper units, all of which stretches more than thirty-one feet in length, Slit is decidedly linear and potentially referential. Between 1960 and 1964, Andre worked as a brakeman and conductor for the Pennsylvania Railroad, an experience that reinforced not only his interest in industrial materials, but also his interest in sculpture and the perceptual qualities of vanishing points. The miles of tracks and lines of freight cars in flat, expansive landscapes increased his awareness of the relationship between an object and its surrounding space.

Although Slit's linear configuration of parallel steel plates vaguely suggests railroad tracks, Andre sees it more broadly as simply a road, which—like his concept of an axial symmetry and multiple, interchangeable parts—evokes multiple and interchangeable viewpoints. . . . Andre's description [of the work, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth 110, p. 207] suggests that to journey along Slit is to experience sculpture as a road—to understand it not as a fixed vertical marker or statue but as a guide to a never-attainable horizon. Sculpture is, in other words, an endless road.

 Michael Auping