Table Piece CLXXXIX, 1974
Width 58.4 cm / 23 in
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ProvenanceRichard Grey Gallery, Chicago
Private Collection, USA
LiteratureD. Blume (ed.) Anthony Caro: Catalogue Raisonnee, vol.I, Table and Related Sculptures 1966-1978, Cologne, 1981, p.203, no.193, illustrated.
DescriptionAnthony Caro (1924-2013) was born in Surrey in 1924. He attended Charterhouse School, Godalming before studying engineering at Christ's College, Cambridge (1942-44). He began his sculptural studies at Regent Street Polytechnic between 1946 and 1947, and from 1947 until 1952 he received formal academic training at the Royal Academy, London. Anthony Caro was one of the most significant and revolutionary international sculptors of the twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries. His work has been exhibited throughout the world, including at the 1966 Venice Biennale, the seminal 'Primary Structures' exhibition in New York of the same year, a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1969, a 1975 retrospective at MoMA, New York, exhibitions all around the world, including at Tate Britain, to mark his 80th birthday in 2004, and his most significant retrospective at Museo Correr, Venice in 2013. Caro was awarded numerous honorary memberships and fellowships of Art Academies and Institutions around the world throughout his career, culminating in the bestowment of the Order of Merit in 2000. Sir Anthony Caro died in London in October 2013.
In the summer of 1966 the art critic Michael Fried visited Anthony Caro in his London studio. The resulting conversation provided the impetus for the start of Caro’s Table Pieces, a discrete series which evolved throughout his career. As the initial catalyst for the Table Pieces, the dialogue between Fried and Caro continued the American Modernist tradition of collaboration and mutual influence between artists and authoritative critics, such as Clement Greenberg and Fried.
In 1959, subsequent to a formative visit to the United States, Caro eliminated the base from his sculpture. This was a seminal act in the history of modern sculpture, emphasising that Caro’s works existed in a literal rather than metaphorical space, as gestural rather than referral or symbolic objects. The re-evaluation of the table top into the sculptural equation, then, signalled a further evolution of his practice. The inherent precariousness of the table’s edge, its height, weight, balance, tautness, and the axis below the surface, all became active elements within each piece.
The relatively modest, domestic scale of each Table Piece is central to the series’ success. In order to avoid the pieces being simply viewed as maquettes for larger works, Caro inserted handles into the earliest examples and sunk at least one element of the sculpture below the table surface, thus rendering the table fundamental to its understanding. Michael Fried commented that the Table Pieces, “mark the emergence of a sense of scale for which there is no precedent in earlier sculpture…encouraging a close scrutiny of surfaces and a concentration on details that would be inappropriate as a response to his larger pieces”. Caro famously worked in a one-car garage as his studio in London, forcing him to see his sculpture in close range. The viewer, who can relate to a Table Piece on an intimate, human scale, is also compelled to examine the sculpture closely.
In 1972-73 Caro worked at a steel foundry in Veduggio, Italy, experimenting with scraps of metal, particularly the ends of rolled steel, cut off and useless for further industrial purposes. Art historian John Golding described how, in Veduggio, “Caro was struck and stimulated by the strong contrasts between dark and light…and his awareness of the importance of sculptural silhouette was sharpened. This is reflected by the way in which large, rough, uneven, dark metallic shapes catch and define empty areas of light and space”. In 'Table Piece CLXXXIX', 1974, the impression on Caro of these fragments of discarded steel is evident – ruptured by the table edge, flanks of mangled and rippled steel plunge below the table edge. They make no functional sense, but are forcefully evocative of their industrial legacy. The coarse texture of the deep brown patina of the steel elucidates the weighty mass of 'Table Piece CLXXXIX', sinking with immense force below the plane of the table. Jagged and tapered edges to the steel and the sheer mass of the work give 'Table Piece CLXXXIX' a powerful, even threatening, presence; a feat of extraordinary composition and precise engineering to hold such a monument weight in suspense.
The Table Pieces have been the subject of significant exhibitions such as that at Kenwood House, London, as part of the Iveagh Bequest, 1974; at the British council exhibition, 1977; the Städtische Galerie, Munich, 1979; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 1994; and at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2012.