Anthony Caro 1924-2013


The Artist
Jules Olitski
Estate of Jules Olitski
Private collection, UK


1967, Otterlo, Netherlands, Kröller-Müller Museum, Anthony Caro


Dieter Blume, Anthony Caro: Catalogue Raisonné Vol. I. Table and Related Sculptures 1966 - 1978, Verlag Galerie Wentzel, Köln, Number 11, illustrated p.40 and 172
In 1966 Anthony Caro had a formative conversation with the American art critic Michael Fried. For the preceding six years Caro had been producing floor-standing sculptures which were entirely abstract. They rejected hundreds of years of sculptural orthodoxy by doing away with plinths altogether. It was an unprecedented move. They appeared to have no relation to the human form but Fried insisted that Caro’s abstracts still relied upon and drew attention to the body as the necessary container for aesthetic experience. These large, sprawling sculptures like Early One Morning (1962) and Prairie (1967) were “fixed in rapport to the height of the eye and the viewer’s perception of the floor”. If altered, “they would cease to be visually comprehensible.” [William Rubin, Anthony Caro, exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1975) p.75] The very nature of these floor sculptures, Fried claimed, rendered them ‘unplinthable’.

Yet, Caro quickly discovered freestanding sculpture had certain restrictions. Working without plinths required his objects to made large enough that they were not overlooked. And internal challenges aside, soon imitators and adopters of his approach to sculpture gathered behind him. Fried recognised exactly what had made such works daring and innovative and so, in discussion with the artist, he suggested a fresh approach to re-introduce a plinths and to further push the boundaries of Caro’s new sculptural vocabulary. Just as earlier works had demanded to be placed on the ground, so these new table pieces demanded to be placed on a raised surface. Many like XI had protrusions below the surface line which dictated that could not be sensibly displayed without a raised surface. They were fixed in relation to the viewers’ body and not maquettes designed for scaled-up sculpture; the artist asks his audience to approach them physically and consciously orientate their body in relation to the specific and inalienable characteristics of his object. His emphasis is upon condensing felt experience and bodily sensations into a material object – as Fried writes: “If there is a single assumption behind Caro’s work it is that anything the body does or feels or undergoes can be made into art.” [Michael Fried, ‘Introduction’, Anthony Caro, exh. cat. The Arts Council, Hayward Gallery (London, 1969), p.14]

As one of the earliest articulations of this idea Table Piece XI is an especially important work. The Table Piece series would continuously evolve through the rest of Caro’s career, varying in size and complexity, but the initial works made in 1966 carry the full initial impact of Caro’s revolutionary idea. Smaller works, like XI, were made by Caro alone in his home garage. Working in a confined space with little assistance demanded the physical closeness of the artist’s body to the artwork – something that informs the conceptual rationale developed by Fried. The smoothed, polished steel draws XI into close comparison with the hard edged abstraction found in the painting of Kenneth Noland, a close friend of Caro, and Clyfford Still that he had been aware of on regular visits to the US from 1959. XI differs from the rough rusted quality and intermittent of Caro’s later table pieces. Fried suggested the experience of looking at these later works is like “delectation” but even earlier works, like XI with its clean, sharp cuts and precise welds, invite sensuous engagement. Ultimately, XI contributes to a period in Caro’s career when, as one critic wrote, he became “a movement in himself, fertile, prolific […] This is the stage at which an artist’s lasting worth, rather than his trend setting achievements, first become recognisable.” [William Feaver, ‘Anthony Caro’, Art International, Lugano, May 1974, p.25]