“André Cadere, Expanding Art” (on view through July 15, 2023) immediately raises questions about its main component—the artist’s pole works. Cadere (1934–78) called these pieces Barres de bois rond (Round bars of wood) and gave them unique, serial-like numbers for identification purposes. Each bar consists of short, cylindrical units of matching length and diameter, painted in a range of three to five solid colors ordered according to algorithms and their permutations. Though these works hover between abstract painting and Minimalist sculpture, they were integral to Cadere’s performances and interventions, which is subtly conveyed by their installation in the exhibition. While some rest on display cases or are secured to the walls at various heights, others—much like garden rakes briefly set aside—lean against the walls, as if waiting to be used.
Cadere had a knack for slipping into art openings and events, always with a round bar of wood in tow. Many viewed him as a troublemaker, an opinion still held by some. In 1973, for example, he accused the Brussels Congress on Art in Its Cultural Context of being elitist, which prompted one of the organizers to extend an invitation. Images reveal Cadere’s round bar of wood in proximity to Sol LeWitt, Marcel Broodthaers, and Daniel Buren, but they cannot capture the post-event controversies that erupted, nor Buren’s refusal to participate in the subsequent exhibition. Three images document Cadere standing at the entrance to the German pavilion during the 37th Venice Biennale, where Joseph Beuys’s Tram Stop (1976) debuted; a film clip records him placing a bar next to Warhol’s The American Indian (Russell Means) (1976) during an opening at the Leo Castelli Gallery. Barely a second passes before he and the object are shooed away.
But as Hervé Bize, the exhibition curator, notes, “What a genius invention to be able to casually showcase his work in every circumstance.” Cadere did this in multiple ways. Pictures taken in Brussels reveal a bar of wood on the floor of a subway station, among magazines at a newsstand, next to a man drying his hands in a washroom, and in the hands of an anonymous woman, who, along with two co-workers, appears to be amused by the object. Film clips show pedestrians taking notice as Cadere strolled along city streets, holding a bar upright, sitting it on his shoulder, or cradling it in one arm.
He temporarily abandoned the bar in Paris, where he took to spraying color circles on curbs and brushing color squares on a wooden fence. He also produced many text works. In “Écriture” (“Writing”), published in a 1972 issue of Les lettres françaises, he states that his system for the bars includes an intentional error; in Compte-rendu d’activités n°2 (Activity report no. 2, March 7, 1978), the signature of Hal Bromm, an early supporter of minimal and conceptual art, qualifies a list of New York galleries and individuals to whom Cadere had shown his work. Cadere was to exhibit at Bromm’s gallery in autumn 1978, but died that summer.
“André Cadere, Expanding Art” is a revelation. In addition to reminding us that this “troublemaker” collaborated with Gilbert & George, the poet Alain Jouffroy, and Christian Boltanski, it highlights his continuing influence on today’s artists. To introduce new exchanges of the sort loved by Cadere, the show also incorporates two performances—Counting Colors, by the Romanian artist Alexandra Sand, and Forever Immigrant (Tattoo) by the Luxembourg-based Portuguese artist Marco Godinho (whose work appears on the endpapers of the exhibition catalogue). Another connection and counterpoint is formed by the new sculptures that Swiss artist Eric Hattan created during his CAB residency. Made from materials retrieved around the neighborhood, these works not only demonstrate Hattan’s interest in the idea of displacement and the processes of rediscovering what surrounds us, but also—like Cadere’s works—make no claim as to what they might mean or portray.