The BBC documentary on Carl Andre and his bricks was fantastic, a real eye opener into how a critical newspaper article can make a work of art become part of the public consciousness, make a work of art become something that captures the imagination to the extent that it becomes part of popular culture, advertising culture, art culture.
A few years ago, there was a TV series called The Rock and Roll Years. This showed the news events of the year cut with a soundtrack of the music highlights of the year. It was brilliant. Bricks used the same idea, but folded in some conceptual art, the popular press view of the bricks all with a cast list of the Tate back in 1976.
I love the fact that Andre's bricks were part of a larger body of work (Equivalents - the Tate Bricks are Equivalent V111 ) which was never shown, and the fact that when the Tate tried to buy the work, Andre had already returned the bricks to the brick-shop where he bought them to get a refund because he was so skint. And because the brickworks had closed already, he had to buy some slightly different bricks which he then sold to the Tate.
So it's about questions of what makes an artwork, it's about what the work is made of, it's about how it strips down and connects to the world, the land, to Andre himself, it's about how people look at a work, and what they look at. And why do they look when they profess that is all a load of old nonsense? There's lots of nonsense in the world but we don't look at it in too much detail. So why these Bricks.
I was slightly shocked at how the bricks were stacked together, not quite perfectly, with some gaps and unevenness in their stacking. And it was really interesting to see present day gallery goers bending down and looking at it in the same kind of way.
There wasn't really any one answer to what it all means, and that's the point of it all (see also Who's Afraid of Conceptual Art). And the media storm that surrounded the work has become part of it. The work had never been exhibited at the Tate until a newspaper article attacking it was published. As soon as that came out, then the Tate put it on display. And they put it on display while there was a massive exhibition of Constable in another part of the gallery - so you had huge very traditional audiences stopping by to look at something very contemporary. They were an audience ready to be outraged.
And that is what made the Bricks so very well known. Without that coming together of circumstances, they would have remained anonymous. So essentially the artist of the work as we know it today is not Carl Andre, but Colin Simpson, the Sunday Times journalist who started the shit storm (he's the guy with the glasses holding the paper.
The chef is the man who vandalised the work with blue paint. He got a round of applause when he did it and the security guards asked him if he was the artist. Central artistic considerations like the fact that the Bricks are part of a larger body of work are by the by compared to Heineken making the bricks part of their advertising campaign, to every brickie in the land saying they could do better, and the mass of random junk that got sent to the Tate asking if they'd buy it. Sandy Nairne (former director of the National Portrait Gallery) wrote the letters saying 'but sadly on this occasion we have to pass up your kind offer'.
The programme mentioned Ana Mendieta, Andre's wife, but only in passing. Andre was acquitted of her murder. Click on the link for more of the story.
In the early hours of 8 September 1985, Mendieta had – to borrow the words Andre had used when he called the emergency services – "somehow gone out the window" of their 34th floor apartment on Manhattan's Mercer Street.
Both had been drinking heavily. Andre later claimed to remember nothing of the events leading up to her death and that she may even have committed suicide, but those that knew her well – and knew of her acute fear of heights – thought this unlikely. Many of them believed he had pushed or even thrown her out of the window during a drunken argument.
"What happened that night, no one will ever know," says the artist Ted Victoria, a close friend of Mendieta who still lives and works in a studio in SoHo close to where she first lived after arriving in New York. "But the notion that she would jump out the window in her underwear – no. She had too much going for her at the time, more so than him. Her work was being noticed. And she wasn't depressed.
"I know because I saw her a few nights before her death. She was up and happy. She hated heights, so she would not have climbed up on the window, which was close to, and just above, the bed in their apartment. My guess is they were fighting and it just happened, this terrible thing."