Since his death in 1978 at the age of 44, Warsaw-born, Romanian-French artist André Cadere has become something of a cult figure, especially in Europe. He is best known for his idiosyncratic sidewalk performances –presentations or promenades, as he called them, which he began in 1972. These seemingly simple solo acts included walking through the arts hubs of New York City, London and Paris while holding on to a tall staff. The sculptural objects he named bars de bois rond, composed of numerous stacked cylinders of painted wood, imperfectly formed but of uniform size, connected through the middle by wooden dowels and glue (the colors were determined by an eccentric numerical system of the artist’s invention). A superlative example is the six-foot-tall Wooden rod B 01234000 (1975), with fifty-two segments in an alternating sequence of yellow, orange, red, and white. It leaned in quiet repose on the wall alongside numerous other examples and thirty color photographs Cadere took to document the performances in the artist’s recent exhibition at Ortuzar Projects in New York – his first survey in the United States since a PS 1 – Retrospective in 1989.
Cadere’s promenades were inspired in part by Richard Long’s “Wanderings in Landscapes” such as A line created by walking (1967) in which the British artist walked back and forth in a straight line across a meadow until he created a path of flattened grass. Cadere was also motivated by the early absurdist performances of Gilbert & George, who became personal friends and supporters. During his walks, Cadere leaned the pole on the outside of buildings or on the inside walls of art galleries. In New York in the late 1970s, he would usually choose prominent contemporary art venues, such as Leo Castelli, to clandestinely exhibit his work as part of another artist’s exhibition.
Although Cadere had a gentle, non-threatening demeanor, passers-by and gallery-goers often viewed his interventions with dismay, and on more than one occasion gallery staff or security guards threw him and his pole out. In a way, Cadere’s venture was ironic and contradictory. The destinations of his walks were often galleries or museums that he had previously approached with an offer to sell or exhibit his bars as sculptures. Of course, he was routinely dismissed as just one of many young artists without significant institutional recognition. For this reason, his undertaking is now seen as a radical critique of the gallery system of the time, with its exclusivity and emphasis on the buzz of the art world.
Without the artist and the performative aspect of the work, the barres seemed more like a talisman, less a vehicle for criticism than static objects to be looked at. Presented here as discrete sculptures, they bore the influence of Brancusi Endless Column (1918) as well as the calculated minimalist aesthetics of Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt.
Among the surprises in the exhibition were related early pieces, such as B. Tall Cubic wooden stick (1971), a prototype of the Barres, in which the wood segments are cubes rather than cylinders and the colors and sequence of the segments appear more complex and varied. Rarely, if ever, shown in the United States, six large, untitled abstract paintings from the late 1960s explore biomorphic forms and quasi-Cubist spatial structures. A 1967 painting, about a meter wide, shows myriad modulated facets of green, blue, and yellow emanating in radiant bands from two white dots at the top of the canvas. The colors shift and alternate in irregular patterns that match those of the bars. Another work from 1969, a painted wooden diptych with jagged edges, was exhibited on the floor, fusing abstract painting with minimalist sculpture à la Carl Andre. It is a daring piece that served as a bridge between the playful relationships of color and space in the paintings and the austere elegance of the solitary trellis.