Anthony Caro 1924-2013

Provenance

Private Collection, USA
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Sold at Sotheby's, New York, 31 October 1984, lot 162
Private Collection, UK 

Exhibitions

1973, New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Anthony Caro: A Special Showing of the New Tablepieces, 25 May - 29 June 1973

Literature

Barry Martin, 'New Work: Anthony Caro', Studio International, vol. 187, no. 965 (April 1974), pp. 202-3 (illus.)
Dieter Blume, ed., Anthony Caro: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Table and Related Sculptures 1966-1978, 1981, Verlag Galerie Wentzel, pp. 77 and 195, cat. no. 149 (illus.)
Anthony Caro was one of the foremost British sculptors of the twentieth century. Having gained a degree in engineering from Christ College, Cambridge, Caro chose to pursue a career as a sculptor, studying at Farnham School of Art, Regent Street Polytechnic (now part of the University of Westminster), and the Royal Academy Schools. He worked as an assistant to Henry Moore in the early fifties, producing figurative work indebted to Moore and his early exposure to the work of Charles Wheeler. On a pivotal trip to the United States in 1959, Caro spent time with critic and proponent of abstract expressionism, Clement Greenberg, as well as the painter Helen Frankenthaler, and sculptor David Smith. Adopting the new approach to colour and form endorsed by Greenberg and his acolytes, Caro returned to England with a revolutionized sculptural language. Bolting and welding flat planes of metal together and painting them with flat, bold colours, sited without plinths, he quickly gained notoriety. He would maintain a transatlantic reputation for the rest of his career, with some American critics claiming him as a native. Caro went on to work in a variety of media, sizes and scales including paper and plastics, public and domestic, from the handheld to the monumental.

Table Piece CLXI is closely related to the large, ground-based ‘Flats’ series Caro produced in parallel from 1973. He described the relationship between his Table Pieces and these larger-scale works as like the difference between ‘a piano sonata and a symphony’. Remarkable within his oeuvre for their intimate, human-scale, Caro himself remarked on the domestic suitability of these works. Importantly, they were never used as maquettes for enlargement but stand as unique works in their own right. ‘They are their own things’ he asserted, and an atmosphere of self-possession characterizes Table Piece CLXI, as though it is embroiled in a private and uneasy relationship with its surroundings.

Many were made in Caro’s garage near Camden Town. He would work alone on the small pieces attempting an initial composition and fixing his material temporarily. The piece would then be made secure by an assistant at his main workshop before being reviewed some months later. The process is almost identical to his large works, differing only in the artist’s more complete involvement in the arrangement of his material. Making sculpture was, to Caro, a conversation: between the sculptor, matter and his or her collaborators. With its close proximity of shifting layers, Table Piece CXLI clearly illustrates how sculpture is also, at its most intimate, a closed conversation between different parts of the material, the sensitive and tactile nature of which the artist attempts to make visible to the viewer.

The tactility of such an ostensibly industrial material as sheet steel is achieved largely through what Caro called its ‘soft’ edges. He discovered that during the manufacturing process of rolling, the edges of the sheets became thinner and more delicate. By carefully controlling these fractures and frills Caro counter balances the brutal, heavy and blunt materiality of his work. In the early seventies he had recently stopped making his colourfully painted sculpture. A transition from the hard-edged angularity of those earlier works to a sensitive appreciation of how his favoured material breaks down is played out across Table Piece CXLI when read from left to right, from the raw cut rectangular form plainly welded onto one end to the thinned and manipulated edges of a single sheet at the other which flows, bifurcates and gently tapers.

In 2008, the Courtauld Gallery accepted a closely related Table Piece from 1974 to its collection, donated by Caro. This fact demonstrates how important the artist considers these works: they represent an exemplary moment in his oeuvre, a major contribution to post-war sculpture, one by which he has chosen to be remembered for posterity. Table Piece CXLI, as one the earliest Table Pieces in the 'Flats'-related series to which the Courtauld sculpture also belongs, is therefore a vital first flourishing of one of several innovative ideas that challenged sculptural convention and support Caro's current reputation.