Four years working on the railroad, according to the artist, “completely tore me away from the pretensions of art, even my own, and I was back on the horizontal lines of steel and rust.” With systems of regular units, Andre rejected the notion of sculpture mounted on a pedestal and viewed from a distance. His desire “to make something to be in the world” is realized by the fact that this sculpture can be inadvertently or purposefully walked on. However, recent research into the properties of lead compels the Museum to caution visitors against stepping on this work.
Gallery label from 2006.
144 Lead Square is one of several works in which Andre abuts twelve-by-twelve-inch metal squares to form a larger square, also based on the number twelve (twelve feet to a side). In this case the metal is lead; elsewhere Andre uses aluminum, steel, zinc, copper, magnesium, and tin. What is fascinating is the complexity of the aesthetic ideas enforced in this simple plan.
Simplicity, after all, is itself an idea. 144 Lead Square implicitly argues with the sculptural conventions that it refuses: an elevating base or pedestal, the craft and talent of shaping, high finish, even three-dimensionality. (Only marginally volumetric, 144 Lead Square rises a mere 3/8 of an inch off the floor.) Instead, Andre uses a straightforward system to organize flat modules of basic materials. It is the system, and the shape and size of the materials themselves, that determine the work’s form. Each part of this Minimalist work is the same proportion of the whole, and no part commands more attention than any other.
“My works are not the embodiments of ideas or conceptions,” Andre has said. “My works are, in the words of William Blake, ‘The lineaments of Gratified Desire.’” There is indeed a sensuousness in Andre’s approach to materials, and to the artwork’s relationship with the surrounding space. Like Minimalism generally, however, his sculpture is fundamentally impersonal, and evinces a solemn austerity.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 283.