November 17, 2020 - January 30, 2021
CARL ANDRE * PETER ROEHRTYPEWRITTEN
Sequence vs. series
In 1958, Carl Andre (born 1935) created a new freedom for himself by typing five terms on one sheet of paper each, suspending them from any conceptuality:
green – five – horn – eye – sound.
Those are the five English words he wrote down, each one of them entitled to an entire sheet of paper. Now, are they five poems, since every term is a condensed representation of its external perception – as for example the color green? Or does Andre suggest that they are five texts, as a single term can already be a statement? Yet, Carl Andre didn’t act as a writer. He set the letters in this sequence on a ground of paper acting as a sculptor. The sculptor he still wanted to become at the time, and a very radical one, as we know today. In retrospective, said five sheets of paper from 1958 were to become a manifesto for his fundamental principles of spatial perception.
Establishing distance in itself as a spatial category is Carl Andre’s innovative achievement for the history of sculpture of the 20th century. Horizontally aligning and sequencing basic geometric shapes which extend over a surface deprived the spectators of the vertical figuration that they had been confronted with for centuries. Instead, distance between two points became visible through shaping modules measuring the space, which can be traced by foot. The physical experience conveyed by moving through a room becomes the sculpture, and thus the spectators themselves, who undergo changes in perspective depending on their movement.
Working with a typewriter paves the way for these thoughts. A word is formed by sequencing letters. A text is formed by connecting words in order for them to become sentences and make sense. Carl Andre withholds this understanding by forgoing grammar and joining terms who stand on their own, therefore isolated in senseless idiosyncrasy, seemingly a sculpted word. It is utterly simple: a sequence of letters specifies a direction in the same way as later a sculpture specifies a dimension in space by sequencing modular elements. The principle of a one-dimensional, irreversible linearity of forms is the foundation of Andre’s sculptures and of his work with words. Hence, both become equitable sculptural expressions, honouring the pictorial nature of words. Carl Andre has created approximately 2,000 sheets of paper. His textual sculptures merge into an oeuvre, an edition named “Seven Books of Poetry”, published in 1969 by Seth Siegelaub. This exhibition presents the full edition consisting of seven volumes of ring files constituting a condensed, thematically structured archive.
Peter Roehr (1944-1968) was born a generation after Carl Andre and just a few years after him, also created his own visual language. In a serial and modular way, he assembled language, found advertising copy, isolated photo motifs and film material to collages that he called “Montages”. The systematic repetition of an image suspends the meaning of a single motif, in the spirit of Walter Benjamin's famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” that Roehr had read. Like many others, he was fascinated by the aesthetics of technical perfection. Peter Roehr began his work in 1962 and had already created his oeuvre when, only after 1965, he learnt about Carl Andre’s word sculptures. This attests a different background, leading back to the art form called “concrete poetry”, an overlap of literature, visual arts and theatre. The term was deducted from the “concrete” in art, a phrase coined in 1930 by Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931). However, since 1954 Eugen Gomringer (born 1925) is considered to be the founding father of concrete poetry, which not only designates something in a factual manner using language, but sets the focus of the design also on phonetic elements of a word as well as on the typographic appearance of a typeface. This also applies to the work of Peter Roehr, who began creating typographic works in 1963. Not only did he design the terms, but he also recited them and gave stage directions, so that the spectators could read them aloud and thus envision them. The interdisciplinary avantgarde movements of the 1960s become noticeable, even though the young workaholic Peter Roehr specified these tendencies himself in his design principle of module-based image sequences, though maybe without the appropriate publicity, considering today. The textual work and all forms of image montages form simultaneously, which can be interpreted as Peter Roehr understanding the pictorial visual character as the work itself.
This is the categorically fundamental difference of seemingly similar forms of expression: While Peter Roehr seeks for the image, Carl Andre understands it as a sculpture.
–– Friedrich MeschedeTranslation: Lena Maria Dreher
With special thanks toJan Mot, Brussels;Seth Siegelaub / Stichting Egress, Amsterdam; Studio Carl Andre, New York; Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorfand Paul Maenz / Estate of Peter Roehr, Berlin