Lot 26
  • 26

Carl Andre

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Carl Andre
  • Pyre (Element Series)
  • 8-unit stack of Western red cedar timbers, 4 tiers of two timbers each alternating

  • Each: 12 x 12 x 36 in. Overall: 48 x 36 x 36 in. Each: 30.5 x 30.5 x 91.4 cm. Overall: 121.9 x 91.4 x 91.4 cm.
  • Conceived in 1960 and executed in 1971, this work is accompanied by a certificate signed, titled and dated New York 1960 (proposed)/Minneapolis 1971 (Made).


Sperone-Westwater-Fischer, Inc., New York
The Gilman Collection, Jacksonville (acquired from the above in December 1977)
Grant Selwyn Fine Art, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1998


Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, Carl Andre Sculpture 1958 - 1974, April - June 1975, cat. no. 1960-11, p. 16, illustrated
Austin, Laguna Gloria Art Museum (and traveling), Carl Andre Sculpture 1959 - 1977, 1978, p. 24, illustrated


Exh. Cat., The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum; Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Carl Andre, 1987, cat. no. 1960-11, p. 13, illustrated
Kenneth Baker, Minimalism: Art of Circumstance, New York, 1988, p. 43, illustrated
James Meyer, ed., CUTS: Carl Andre Texts 1959 - 2004, 2005, p. 243, illustrated


The sculpture and its elements are in excellent condition overall. The beams are made of seasoned, roughly hewn wood which display knotholes, tool marks, worn edges and gouges which are inherent to the found wood used by the artist for this work. Dimensional cracks that are horizontal and radial are evident on each beam and are to be expected in the natural process of drying over time. Two beams exhibit slightly wider dimensional cracks running horizontally. Some older, weathered splits and short gouges have developed on the edges of a few beams from wear. Traces of white pigment (1 x ½ in.) were noted on the side of one beam. At one point, this work was installed outdoors – an acceptable practice to the artist – which does lead to a darker uneven weathering tone on some sections of the beams as they are more exposed to the elements than sections that are covered by other beams in the stacking arrangement.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Carl Andre's approach to sculpture is additive in nature. For him, a sculpture is not revealed through reductive cuts into a block of material or bound by agents such as nails or welds. Andre's sculptures are built up and assembled with units, standardized in form and measurement just like any railroad, highway or industrial system. Pyre is part of Andre's Element series, which is the first group of Andre's mature works as characterized by materials that are "neither cut nor joined." (Exh. Cat. London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Carl Andre, 1978, n.p.). Other notable pieces in the Element Series can be found in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The conception of the Element series was preceded by Cedar Piece and Pyramid, both of 1959, and realized in cedar wood, Andre's material of choice in his earliest sculptures, perhaps associative with his years working on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1960s. Both consisted of identical units that were individualized and unconnected, and conceivably the structures could be deconstructed and reassembled in entirely different formats. Cedar Piece and Pyramid were Andre's first fully realized works, exhibiting impressive advances in structural composition, increased mass and unaltered surface that would be evident in the Element series conceived the following year.

The theoretically interchangeable modular units that make up Pyre are the 'elements' upon which the series relies. Plans for this series were worked out as sketches. Drawing is not an essential component of Andre's practice, but in these early years it was necessary for the artist to communicate his ideas for sculptural works that were mentally but not yet physically formed. In Andre's words, "I couldn't do multiple timber pieces because I could only scavenge individual timbers in the street. To get sets of timbers you had to go to a mill, and I had no money for that" (David Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, New Haven, 2001, p. 283). Thus Pyre and the other works in the Element series existed as concepts, the purest form of art, until they were realized in the early 1970s.

During this period, Andre was making sculpture in the studio of his friend Frank Stella. Andre did not meet fellow Minimalist sculptors Donald Judd and Robert Morris until 1965; thus, it was his interactions with Stella's paintings that set up important artistic problems to be worked out in his own sculptural practice. Andre described Stella's approach to painting in this way: "He treated a painting as a work to be accomplished by a consistent rigorous application entirely across a surface of the canvas ... breaking down a form into elements and then combining them." (Exh. Cat. London, 1978, n.p.). This basic idea is a tenet of Andre's Minimal sculpture.

Constantin Brancusi, regarded by many Minimalists as the greatest sculptor of the 20th century, was also an important influence on Andre's trajectory. Certainly, Andre and Brancusi share a sensitivity and concern for the materials chosen for their sculptures. Specifically for Andre, "Brancusi... is the great link into the earth and the Endless Column is of course the absolute culmination of that experience. They reach up and they drive down into the earth with a kind of verticality which is not terminal: the top of the head and the bottom of the feet were the limits of sculpture." (Ibid., n.p).  This statement aligns Andre with strain of historically important artists working with the principles of geometric abstraction. It also outlines an important foundation of Minimalism: that modular repetition can be the basis for artistic exploration of the material world. In this way, the repetition of the wood blocks in the Elements Series unveils possibilities beyond the flat surface of Stella's Black Paintings of 1958-1959 that were contemporary with Pyre's conception. Exploration of generative accumulation in Andre's work finds accord with the physical qualities of Sol LeWitt's cube forms. Both artists investigate the configurations of our world via the assembly of components and basic elements, yielding insight into our modes of relating to the world in which we dwell.

Pyre is a compact force that transports the viewer through time and space to an experience that is both ancient and modern. As much as the form and material reference the industrial machine as embodied by the railroad, the sculpture's title, Pyre, calls to mind a raised wooden structure used in the ceremonial burning of a corpse. Made famous in Western culture by the Romans and Vikings, pyres have also long been a part of Hindu and Sikh funerary practices. Andre generally deflects spiritual or transcendental connections in his work, but here it seems apt to note those allusions in his chosen title. Pyre's cultural associations seem to enliven the manner in which the material works in concert with the elegant simplicity of the form. Pyre's elemental composition belies the complexity held within its sturdy construction, which references both an earthbound existence and the possibilities that lie beyond.