France Honors Carl Andre and Paula Cooper

December 1, 2015 | By French Culture

On Monday, November 30, 2015, Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur awarded renowned sculptor Carl Andre and esteemed gallerist Paula Cooper with the Order of Arts and Letters. The awards were presented during a ceremony held at Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
 
Welcome!
 
As Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, it is my honor to welcome you all here tonight, as we confer the Insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters to two renowned figures in the art world, Carl Andre and Paula Cooper.
 
The Order of Arts and Letters was established by the French government in 1957 to recognize people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. The Order of Arts and Letters is given out three times annually under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Culture and Communication. 
 
During these ceremonies, I often have to introduce the honorees to each other. For this ceremony, however, there’s no need! Carl and Paula, you have known each other for the majority of your careers. Not only have you known each other, but you have also worked together countless times: Carl, as the pioneering sculptor, and Paula, as the pioneering gallerist, dealing Carl’s art. Paula said that when she first encountered Andre’s Equivalents at the Tibor de Nagy gallery, “I was just so mesmerized. I didn't want the experience to end. And 40-odd years later, I still feel that way about Carl's work. I still think he's one of the most radical artists there is.” Paula would go on to feature Carl in her inaugural exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1968. Since then, I think the relationship between Carl Andre’s art and the Paula Cooper gallery has helped bring both of you to the esteemed positions you hold in the art world. As a team and as individuals, you have transformed art and the way the public encounters art, and this is of course why we are honoring you both tonight.
 
France is a gallant country, so let us begin with Paula Cooper.
 
Paula, this is the second time you’re being decorated by the French Embassy; the first time was in 2002, when you were made a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. So first of all, we must say, welcome back! We’re thrilled to now promote you to the rank of Officer of the Order of Arts in Letters, in acknowledgment of your many achievements since the last time you were in this room, as well as the lasting impact of your long career for art today. Just as your good friend Carl Andre transformed sculpture, you transformed contemporary art galleries. Beginning in the 1960s, you set new standards for galleries, in terms of their practices as well as their quality of art. Generations of gallerists have followed in your footsteps, showing the enduring power of your legacy.
Your friends, supporters and colleagues all vary in what they consider to be your greatest achievement for galleries. But there is one enormous feat they will all mention: that you picked up the New York gallery world and moved it from uptown to downtown. We mentioned this fact ourselves when we first decorated you in 2002, but because the story is so incredible we must reflect upon it once more. In 1968, you opened the first Paula Cooper gallery in an industrial wasteland known as SoHo. You were looking for a large, light-filled space that could accommodate a range of projects, and for you the 3,000 square foot loft fit the bill. People thought you were crazy for opening a gallery down there, and that no one would ever go. Well, pretty soon Ivan Karp relocated to SoHo, and then Leo Castelli, and by 1973, there were 33 galleries in SoHo. In the empty loft spaces, you saw opportunity, and started a city-wide trend. Some years later, you would also be among the first gallerists to relocate to Chelsea—an area which now has the largest concentration of art galleries in the world. You have consistently been ahead of your times, anticipating new developments in art before they were realized. One of the few prominent female gallerists in the 1960s, you have not ceased to lead your career with audacity and independence.
 
Your innovative spirit also expanded the role of the art gallery, and the type of work galleries display. Prior to opening your own gallery, you were President of Park Place, a groundbreaking co-op of artists and art-lovers that displayed new, experimental art of all categories: sculpture, filmmaking, dance, and more. Drawing on your experience at Park Place, you imbued Paula Cooper gallery with the same sense of openness across the arts—and because you made your archives from 1968 – 1973 available to the Archive of American Art, the public can now view documentation from this formative period. Your inaugural exhibition featured artists at the forefront of the new Minimalist and conceptual art movements, such as Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, and more. The gallery would then host a rehearsal by the Mabou Mines theatre company, performances by musicians such as John Cage and Philip Glass, and dancers such as Yvonne Rainer and Bill T. Jones. You set a new precedent for galleries to accommodate a diversity of artists and performers, as well as to foster a strong sense of community.
 
Thanks to your open mind and your critical eye, many great artists have appeared in the Paula Cooper gallery, as burgeoning talents and established names. Jennifer Bartlett displayed her minimalist masterpiece Rhapsody for the first time at your gallery, and Jonathan Borofsky showcased his pioneering Neo-Expressionist installations. You also featured intriguing works such as Robert Gober’s sculpture, and Yayoi Kusama’s early sketches and pieces.
 
To this day, you are showing some of the most talked-about artists and exhibitions. In 2011, you displayed Christian Marclay’s smash-hit 24 hour exhibition, The Clock. The lines to get into the gallery were out the door and around the block, for three days straight! Recently, your gallery began representing Tauba Auerbach, one of the most promising contemporary artists. Lebanese artist Walid Raad, also represented by Paula Cooper, currently has his first comprehensive American survey show on display at the MoMA. You remain on the pulse of the action, nurturing dynamic talents and knowing what will excite art-lovers most.
 
France is fortunate to have been an important part of your career. As a college student, you spent a year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and as a gallerist, you have continued to exchange with France in the artistic realm. You have partnered with fellow French gallerists Yvon Lambert and Patrick Seguin, sometimes curating shows at their galleries that bring your favorite artists to a French audience. Your working relationship with France has continued with great success, and just this month, you collaborated with FIAC to display three Liz Glynn sculptures, inspired by Rodin, in the garden of the Petit Palais. Whether it’s Mark di Suevero in the Jardin des Tuileries or Robert Wilson at the Centre Pompidou, it’s thrilling to see exhibitions in France by the artists you represent, as these shows give France access to some of the best American talent.
 
You also bring some of the best French talent to America by representing French artists. Two of the most fascinating French artists working today are represented by Paula Cooper Gallery: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Sophie Calle. In 2009, you displayed Calle’s acclaimed installation, Take Care of Yourself, and this meditation on feminism and identity has been so well-received that it has traveled to 21 locations around the globe so far. Just this past summer, Boursier-Mougenot electrified the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with his installation rêvolutions, a take on his signature combination of visual and acoustic expression. The prestige of the Paula Cooper representation has truly given these French artists an international platform, as well as the respect and support to develop their talent.
 
For all of the change in the gallery and art world over the past few decades, much of the way you work remains the same. You privilege the quality of art above all else, encouraging artists to create pieces that are most true to their styles, rather than works that will generate mega-sales at auctions. Your convictions extend to your continued engagement in social and political causes; your very first exhibition was a benefit for the Student Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam and Veterans Against the War, and since then, you have organized shows in support for Amnesty International, NARAL, and even Artists and Writers for Obama in 2012. You believe in the power of art to advance the social dialogue, and your shows are often as thought-provoking as they are visually arresting. 
 
As someone who was a board member of The Kitchen for 22 years, and President for ten, you continue to support diverse arts organizations. Currently, you serve on the Board of Advisors at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and on the Jury for The Alice Award for illustrated books in honor of Alice M. Kaplan.  A nod to the importance of historical documentation for the arts, you also generously gave your archives from 1968-1973 period to the Archive of American Art. In 2003, you made an incredible contribution to the book industry when you and your husband founded the independent bookstore 192 Books. The store boasts an excellent selection of work in translation, and has hosted readings with French writers such as Emmanuel Carrère and Grégoire Bouillier.
 
Today, you’re preserving the best elements of art galleries: authenticity, social engagement, and connection with the broader world of arts. Over the years, you have been true to your own vision, and your vision continues to impact art and galleries in this century. You have lived with art for nearly 50 years, and I believe this is why those close to you call you such an optimistic person, because you have so much to see and so much to think about. Indeed, you make us wonder, what would happen to us without art? 
 
A constant visionary, an independent and distinctive voice, a supporter of French-American artistic exchange, the art world is very indebted to the precedents you have established. I am honored to present you with this award.
 
Chère Paula Cooper, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
 
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Let us now turn to Carl Andre. 
 
I would like to welcome your wife, Melissa Kretschmer, herself an accomplished artist.
 
Carl, in 1967 you were quoted in Art in America saying: “Art is what we do. Culture is what is done to us.” And indeed, throughout your career you have used art as a way to take action in the world, often against the restrictions of the cultures in which you find yourself. And, you have invited us, as spectators, to walk into your work, to experience it in space and time and, in so doing, to be a part of it’s creation.
 
Although you are widely recognized as a Minimalist sculptor, the scope and depth of your work could hardly be limited to one craft or genre. You are a sculptor, a poet, and a photographer. In your work you simultaneously explore the concrete and the poetic using materials such as wood, aluminum and copper, and a highly developed aesthetic language. You have explored seriality and modular systems redefining what sculpture can be and developing a new vocabulary with which to understand the craft. 
 
From your first-ever solo show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1965 to your current retrospective exhibition, Sculpture as Place: 1958-2010, curated by Philippe Vergne, Yasmil Raymond, who is here with us tonight, and Manuel Cirauqui, at the Dia:Beacon, your career and work have given rise to questions that are still relevant today. What was once seen as radical and unthinkable in your work has become celebrated and admired. 
 
Your sculptural revolution springs from a reworking of the most basic elements of sculpture, even the role and the process of the sculptor. You cast aside traditional sculpting practices such as molding, carving, and welding. Instead, you assemble raw materials to form sculptures held in place only by gravity. 
 
You grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, a town that was both rural and industrial, it was the birthplace of two U.S. presidents. Your father worked in the shipyard there. This environment left you with a penchant for materials such as wood, rock and metal that are deeply connected to your sculptures. Whether it was stacked hay bales for the 1968 installation Joint, or scattered aluminum cubes for the 2001 sculpture Aluminum Cloud, you choose materials connected to the specific site and environment in which the sculpture was intended to be exhibited. When you use existing materials, it is not only for their aesthetic values but also for the way they serve as equipment for looking at art and experiencing the world. You find beauty in materials often overlooked by other, and harmony in the way they are arranged in a particular space. You questioned classical notions of sculpture to build something dramatically new.
 
You also turn sculpture on its head, quite literally, when you re-orient it from the vertical to the horizontal axis. In the mid-1960s, you became inspired by the smooth surface of water, prompting you to envision your work in a linear format.  The groundbreaking Cuts at the Dwan Gallery in 1968 consisted of flat metal plate pieces, forming rectangular “cuts” in the gallery wood floor. You invited visitors to regard sculpture in terms of length and width, and to reflect on how art creates a sense of space. You even allowed them to walk on your work! You transformed not only the physical properties of sculpture, but the way in which viewers interact with sculpture, demanding that they look down and across instead of looking up.  For you, revolution is a return to fundamentals.  It is not sufficient to just create new works of art; rather, we must create a new paradigm for art. Your results are disarming, but also liberating. 
 
And as with most radical shifts, your work has encountered pushback from those who don’t understand or accept such change for art. When the Tate Gallery purchased your 1966 sculpture, Equivalent VIII, detractors spoke out against the purchase, claiming that your stacked firestones couldn’t possibly be a work of art. But now both works are recognized as important works in the history of art. 
 
One museumgoer was so disrespectful that he poured blue vegetable dye on your work. 
Likewise, you faced much resistance to your 1977 Stone Field Sculpture, executed in a park in Hartford, Connecticut. The former mayor of Hartford even declared that the city would be “ridiculed” for the sculpture. 
 
An artistic visionary, you are nevertheless inspired by the daring artists who have come before you, and your link to your French precursors is striking. Most importantly, you’ve often cited Constantin Brancusi as a major influence on your work, the Romanian-born sculptor who made his career in France.
 
Perhaps even more interesting than your artistic influences are the impact of other fields on your work. You are known to be cerebral and well-read, and your art is informed by your many interests, from politics to mathematics. You’ve often looked to Dimitri Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Elements when seeking new metals to use for sculpture. You originally attended the prestigious Philips Academy to study poetry, where you read Keats and Poe, and later French poets such as Mallarme, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. With Hollis Frampton who also photographed your sculptures in the 1950-1960 you wrote “On certain poems and consecutive matters," 1963. You approach poetry much like you approach sculpture. Words are yet another material for your art. You used a typewriter and colored ink giving the words a sculptural quality. The page is a space in which you experiment with forms. You have even played with your name, scrambling the letters and signing with the name Alden Carr. 
 
An American artist, you’ve perhaps had your greatest success in Europe, where your has been met with acclaim for decades. The German Art Dealer Konrad Fischer discovered your work very early in your career, and he proposed your first solo show in Europe in 1967. Since then, you have shown everywhere from the Stedlijk Museum in Amsterdam to the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid, the Haus Esters and Kunstmuseum in Wolfburg, Germany, the Tate Modern in London. And that is only a small selection of places you’ve shown around the globe from Osaka, Japan to Australia.
 
In France, your art has had particular resonance. You’ve been represented in Paris for decades by gallerist Yvon Lambert, who has called you the greatest sculptor of the 20th century. The art collectors Françoise and Jean-Philippe Billarant are also longtime supporters of your work: they own fifteen of your pieces, and say they wish they could buy more!
 
You’ve had many exhibitions at the celebrated Galerie Arnaud Lefebvre, as well as the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Jardin des Tuilieries. Outside of Paris, your work has travelled to other cities, such as Lyon and Bordeaux. An unforgettable show dedicated to your sculpture was held at the Musee Cantini in Marseille curated by Corinne Diserens, in 1997, and the huge crowds were a testament to the French fascination with your art. We’re pleased to note that your Dia:Beacon show will travel to the muse d’art modern de la ville de Paris in the fall of 2016!
 
You once said, “A man climbs a mountain because it is there. An artist makes a work of art because it is not there.” Your career has been one of unforeseen art and unforeseen ideas. Thanks to your influence on the next generation of artists, we know we will see further transformations in the world of art.
 
A legendary sculptor with multiple approaches, you have had great influence in the art world. I hope your deep relationship with France will continue to influence you as well. I am honored to present you with this award.
 
Cher Carl Andre, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. 
 
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