Steel Zinc Plain 1967 - Carl Andre

Carl Andre appears at David Bowie show

US Minimalist's 1969 floor work Steel Zinc Plain is one of four scene setting pieces - read our Andre interview

Of the many seemingly disparate items on show in the David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A a floor piece by American minimalist Carl Andre was the first to catch's eye. The Piece, Steel Zinc Plain was created in 1969 and is on loan from the Tate's permanent collection. Visitors are allowed to walk across it (indeed many don't even notice it) a key part of Andre's desire to alter the viewer's relationship to his art.

The opening section of the Bowie exhibition features four conceptual art pieces which in some way aim to disorientate the visitor and put into question what 'art' was is in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They include Chess Pieces by John Cage, (Art as music), the afore mentioned Steel Zinc Plain by Carl Andre, (Art as territory you can walk on), The Singing Sculpture Gilbert & George, (Art as performance) and Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) Roelof Louw, (Art to take and eat). 

Of these four, Andre is the most mysterious to many, perhaps best known for his grid-based floor sculptures but also for large, outdoor public artworks and small sculptures, poetry and installations. At the heart of Andre’s vision lies a commitment to seeing things as elements: as separable self-contained units. 

Entering the public eye in the mid 1960s he was one of a group of American artists who transformed the way we look at man made materials and the profound simplicity of his work helped redefine sculpture for a whole generation of artists. 

Together with Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Richard Serra and Robert Morris, Andre revealed the ergonomic beauty in a railway sleeper or a slab of metal. Phaidon interviewed Andre a couple of years back when we published his extraordinary book, Things In Their Elements. Written (beautifully, we may add) by Lecturer in Art History at St. Andrews, Scotland Alistair Rider. This is how the chat went.


Carl Andre in 1978
Carl Andre in 1978


What's important to you as an artist? The attempt to create material conditions I have not experienced before. Matter mattering.

What have been key moments or projects in your development as an artist? I have always been interested in the properties of materials. The Periodic Table of elements is my spectrum. The bins of metals in my father's workshop.

Can you describe the importance of materials in feeding your inspiration for sculptures? My sculptures are specimens of matter.

You also write poetry. Can you say a bit about this form of expression in relation to your art? My mother wrote poetry. My father read poetry to me

As someone who has chosen to remain out of the public spotlight, how important is your art in maintaining your communication with the wider public? Attention should be paid to my sculptures and poetry, not to me.

What does it mean to you to have done this book Carl Andre: Things in Their Elements? This book has been assembled by others from fragments of my work. It is like a geological core sample.

What would you like readers to take away from this book? I hope that this book will give pleasure to those who read it and perhaps helps to bring my sculpture and poetry to the attention of a wider audience.

Take a look at Things In Their Elements in the store.