Taking down some walls, we start finding stamped bricks. Names stamped at the time of their manufacture, denoting their makers- the families, yards and towns of the Hudson River Valley Brick companies. The names are all different, which implies that the portion we are currently demolishing, a previous renovation, was constructed from several different lots of brick. They were being used as interior walls and wouldn’t be visible under layers of plaster. “Back brick,” we call it. The contractor (in 1950?) bought a mixed lot for a better rate. Being from different makers, there would be little consistency in the form and color of the bricks. Some may have already been damaged to a degree. A lesser grade. Didn’t matter. You wouldn’t see them anyway. They were just going to get covered with plaster. The stamps of their makers, placed face down in the hastily applied mortar.
The names of the companies stamped on the brick intrigue us, even when the walls are gone. Each individual brick bears the name of its maker. They carry that bit of history. Separated from history, these names are now unfamiliar; we are confronted with words that have very little meaning. Decorative linguistic nonsense.
If you put your nose up to the glass of the Donald Judd house/Foundation in SOHO, you’ll see a sculpture on the floor by an artist named Carl Andre. The piece is called “Manifest Destiny.”
There are 8 bricks stacked, the stamp of their maker “EMPIRE” repeated on the faces. The piece was conceived in 1986. The Empire Company went out of business in 1940. That’s minimalist sculpture. We understand that this man-made form can be branded and infinitely reproduced, own the space it occupies. Vertical, like the Empire State building. It says a lot with a little. You can think it’s about capitalism and conquest or just a stack of bricks with words on them.