The work of Carl Andre occupies an essential transitional position in contemporary art. The artist himself places it in a tradition spanning Constantin Brancusi to Henry Moore, yet historically it rests within the more recent context of ideational gestures, starting with the early paintings of Frank Stella. The Guggenheim Museum's collection covers a wide range of Andre's oeuvre, including the viewer-interactive 10 x 10 Altstadt Copper Square (1967), in which space is defined by both the work and the spectator, who is free to walk across it; Fall (1968), an angle of hot-rolled steel; and Trabum (Element Series) (1960; made 1977), a cube made of nine interlocking beams of Douglas fir.
These examples embody the characteristic features of Andre's sculpture, such as the use of ready-made materials, the employment of modular units, and the articulation of three-dimensionality through a consideration of its negative as well as positive space. Andre has sought to reduce the vocabulary of 20th-century sculpture to basic phonemes such as squares, cubes, lines, and diagrams. In his avowed transition from the exploration of form to that of structure and of place, Andre has placed significant emphasis on the relation between site and viewer. His pseudoindustrial, untheatrical arrangements hover between being ideas and testing the limits of physical presence.
Poetics plays an important role in Andre's work, manifested most literally by his experiments with linguistic equivalents to his sculpture. Since the 1960s he has created poems and, in the tradition of concrete poetry, situated the words on the page as if they were working drawings. He has often reached to ancient languages for titles in his attempt to craft a primordial language of form; for example, the title Trabum is derived from the Latin for log or timber. Andre's consistent search for the simplest, most rational models embodies a moral philosophy as well as an artistic practice.