Carl Andre is best known in this country for 'Equivalent viii', the brick floor-piece which was bought by the Tate Gallery, amid much ballyhoo, in 1975. Nearly 25 years later, his new installation, '12 Isohedra', on display as part of the Edinburgh Festival, is broadly similar but now is barely capable of raising an eyebrow, let alone a furore.
'12 Isohedra' consists of four sets of compositions, each set being made up of three floor-pieces - the isohedra of the title. Each isohedron is made of 24 similar blocks of red sandstone, slightly larger than bricks and rather more variable in size. The first set is of three lines - one block wide by 24 blocks long - in which the length of each line is determined by, alternately, the dimension of the face, stretcher or header. The other three sets are of isohedra two blocks wide by 12 blocks long, three blocks wide by eight blocks long, and four blocks wide by six blocks long, all combined on the same basis.
Assessing Andre's work in relation to one conventional Minimalist criterion, it seems less than perfectly executed: the degree of variation in the block size, while not sufficient to allow any individual block to attain a distinct identity, is great enough to disturb the effect of homogeneity in the elements. Andre does prefer to make his work from elements finished as found or manufactured, rather than working on them individually, but such irregularity of size appears to be a result of excessive latitude in the specified tolerances.
According to the combinative scheme adopted by Andre, there are 24 possible arrangements of the same 24 blocks; he has laid out 12. Restricting oneself to a set number of repeated single units and working through their potential configurations according to set rules is a Classical ordering technique apparent in Latin or in Classical architecture. The eventual form of '12 Isohedra' is already determined once the blocks' size, number and material have been chosen and the arithmetical/geometric scheme arrived at.
If pursued so that the 24 isohedra were all executed, the work would be closed in the way that ideal Classical works are. The Classical reference acknowledged by Andre is to music, however, rather than to architecture or language. Andre has compared his Edinburgh work with the music of Bach. The idea of exhausting all of the possibilities of a standard sequence as applied to a limited number of components is, of course, pursued in Bach's fugues, arguably the most Classical of musical compositions.
Minimalism is at a low point on the fashion cycle, at least in Britain; art review headlines recently have been grabbed more often by younger artists whose primary intention is to shock, or by those working with newer media. Recent work by young British artists in the traditional materials of sculpture has tended to be ironic. One does get the impression from '12 Isohedra' that the decrease in attention paid to Andre's work has led to a decline in the rigour and conviction with which it is carried out and, possibly, in a loss of resources available for its production and exhibition. Andre wanted 3000 blocks of stone for this show, presumably to pursue a similar exercise on a larger numeric sequence, but couldn't afford it. With such a quantity of stone at his disposal Andre might have achieved an epic piece of work giving the impression, as Bach's fugues do, of summing up all of the arragements producible from a minute range of elements and a single applied formula.
In another of the Botanic Garden's pavilions, just for the duration of the festival, Melissa Kretschmer built 'Tsunami' - a work in tar, silicone and three thicknesses of glass. The work was site-specific and, at 2.5m high and 17.5m long, as large as the gallery would accommodate. Along the length of the work, and at various depths within the lamination, rectangular panels of bitumen rendered the glass more or less reflective of the gardens outside. The effect of this was beautiful, because the gardens are beautiful, but the panels gave the impression of having been applied to no scheme other than that of compositional elegance. 'Tsunami' dominated the senses in a way that '12 Isohedra' does not, but to surprisingly little effect. It was not absorbing; and rigour was apparent neither in its conception nor its construction. This and the Andre exhibition were intended to complement one another, but unfortunately they were complementary only in that each bore reminders of the failings of the other.
Gerry McLean is a London architect