In 1960 Andre made drawings for a series of sculptures which he called the 'Element' series. He proposed to construct these sculptures from standardised lengths of wood, each 12 x 12 x 36" (30.2 x 30.2 x 90.7 cm), in simple, regular configurations but through lack of funds was unable to buy the timber. The importance of the 'Elements', however, even in diagrammatic form, lay in the decision to use modular units in regular, repetitive arrangements, a principle which was to remain fundamental for his later works.
In 1964, encouraged by an invitation to exhibit at the Hudson River Museum, Andre began work on a group of wood sculptures that retained the essentials of the 'Element' series. For the 'Shape and Structure' exhibition held in January 1965 at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, he built Well 1964 (Ludwig Collection, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne), and Redan 1964 (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), using 12 x 12 x 36" (31 x 31 x 92 cm) units stacked in box-like arrangements. Chain well was made at this time using smaller components; each of the twenty-three wooden sections measures 31/2 x 31/2 x 18" (8.7 x 8.7 x 45.7 cm). Chain well also differs from the larger sculptures in the addition of a second material, the metal chain that is suspended through the centre of the work and accounts for the title of the piece; although last exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1970 as 'Chain Sculpture', the artist has confirmed the title Chain well.1 The wooden elements of Chain well are stacked alternately to create solids and voids, reiterating the regular intervals in the chain. The more massive Well, which was built for exhibition in January 1965, has the lengths of wood arranged one above the other to effect a solid wall around the internal space. It is likely that Chain well preceded the larger work.
Most of the sculptures of the early 1960s using stacked pieces were dismantled after exhibition and exist now as reconstructions in new materials. Chain well, however, is one of the few works from the period to retain the original components.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 pp.332.
- Carl Andre, correspondence with the Gallery, 20 June 1986.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010