Abstract Critical

Peter Hide on Caro at Gagosian

Written by Peter Hide

Clouds, 2012, Steel, rusted, 90 x 230 3/8 x 71 1/8 inches (228.5 x 585 x 180.5 cm) © Barford Sculptures Ltd. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery Photo John Hammond

Clouds, 2012, Steel, rusted, 90 x 230 3/8 x 71 1/8 inches (228.5 x 585 x 180.5 cm) © Barford Sculptures Ltd. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery Photo John Hammond

There are ten sculptures by Caro in the spacious halls of Gagosian Gallery. These pieces take off from structural sections originally conceived as parts of a one third scale ‘maquette’ for a huge, drive-by sculpture to be placed along the median of Park Avenue, New York. The project fell through due to financial considerations and the structural sections become the starting point for this series of new sculptures.

These structural sections as I remember them from a visit to Caro’s studio two years or so ago had the character of space frames. The sculptures suggest that these have been cut up and reassembled. The resulting sculptures are complex unities still carrying a sense of a containing framework, but with powerful counter-movements within curvaceous movements that carry on through the rigid geometry of the frame to become part of the external profile and embrace ambient space.

The show can be divided into three groups, but all involved somehow with containment – opposing it, bursting from it, stretching within it and so on. These are four pieces that are roughly equal. Of these Torrents and Tempest are my favourites. Tempest combines a sense of density, powerful complex movements plunge the eye deep into the interior of the work and create a sense of rotation at the same time.

More obviously cubic, Torrents has a feel of relaxation and openness – there is containment but no conflict. I am reminded of Caro’s classic sixties phase and such sculptures as Carriage or even Orangerie.

Both these pieces are about movement, but movement contained, they are walk-around sculptures that give equal weight to front, back and sides, inscribable in a circle in plan view, nevertheless there is a hierarchy of views as underlined by their placement in the gallery.

Installation view Anthony Caro: Park Avenue Series. All artwork © Barford Sculptures Ltd. Photo Mike Bruce

Installation view Anthony Caro: Park Avenue Series. All artwork © Barford Sculptures Ltd. Photo Mike Bruce

In contrast to the cubic group of four, are three long pieces, which deal with the idea of extension within a contained space. Morning Shadow and Wandering suggest the rectangular volume of a railway carriage, whereas Clouds is more or less contained by a stretched prism lying on its side. 

Clouds presents itself as a tableau, a long shallow niche deepening as it moves towards the centre. It is best seen from the front and close up, then the heavy volume which dominate the lower reaches of the piece assume a dynamic relation to the cloud like shapes that float above and constitute the upper profile. The juxtaposition of these flat cloud shapes with lumpy ground-based volumes all set in a triangular box is innovative and awkward, and despite the way it comes on as a tableau repays a walk around.

In contrast to Clouds, Morning Shadows unfolds itself within the familiar format of a boxcar. There is a hint of partition within, which threatens to divide the piece but doesn’t, and so the overall feeling is calm and expansive, evocative of the title.

Partition is more emphatically stated in Wandering, yet if anything the lateral continuity is stronger than in Morning Shadows. Wandering is my favourite of the three longer sculptures. The energy created by the interior movement flows with a powerful ease. The central partition and the end walls are bluntly stated, yet they are not allowed to shut the work off from the surrounding space or halt the movement within. I am reminded at some removes of Donatello’s famous Cantoria on which the frenzied dancing puttos create a continuous movement that overcomes the subdivision of the regularly spaced pilasters. The Contoria too is based on or around the box form of the choir stall. However the Contoria, unlike Caro’s pieces is not concerned with the floor, and here I must stress how important the floor is in these sculptures. It is tempting to forget about the floor because of the container like gestalt of this series, yet in all the sculptures in different ways use the floor to allow for a continuity or interplay between inside and outside space.

In Solitude and Horizon (the two smallest pieces in the show) the floor is emphasised in a way very reminiscent of his breakthrough pieces of the early sixties – specifically in that they appeal below eye level. Horizon recalls Cherry Pie of the late sixties, although its much heavier, more forceful composition suggest an upheaveal of the floor or the crushing force of ice floes. Solitude on the other hand floats gently above the floor. Both pieces pick up on its triangular format of CloudsHorizon in floor plan and Solitude in its suggestion of the pedimental form.

All told an impressive show full of vitality and sculptural ideas.

Anthony Caro: Park Avenue Series is on at Gagosian, Britannia Street until the 27th of July

  1. Robin Greenwood said…

    What a strange mixture, Peter! Old Skool formalism meets vague metaphorical allusion. They look a bit like this and a bit like that. Three tons of steel to make something that looks a bit like clouds – are we meant to admire the irony?

    We’ve had four essays on the man now. This one apart, the other three seem broadly to agree that Caro is not much of a sculptor in the “hands on” sense, though Tim and David suggest he’s still important as an artist – an auteur even. Personally, I think the discipline is bigger than the man, and whilst his sixties work is hugely innovative – let’s give credit where it’s due – he also may be credited with some damage to sculpture. An innovator, yes. A master? Well, the jury is out on that one; but it would seem to me that beyond the innovation of the sixties, there has been a contraction of the discipline. Collaging found objects, unchecked pictorialism, and a tendency toward literal installation are all weakening trends that remain unaddressed.

    Interesting that both Pete and Tim have highlighted “Wandering”, which seems to me to be a real throw-back. Actually, what it reminds me most of is early Tim Scott (“Pool 2”? http://www.poussin-gallery.com/site.php?artist=9&group=19 ). Nothing wrong with that, except that was then and this is now. Can we move on?

    I had a look at “Early One Morning” the other day at Tate, badly curated (by Penelope Curtis again? Remember the RA? Damn, there goes the Tate retrospective as well as the knighthood). Here’s a couple of tips for future curators of this sculpture – don’t line it up with the architecture, and don’t play it off against paintings; it has enough of the painting in it already. As I say, I had a look at it recently, and, much as I love the old thing, there is no doubt that from today’s more critical perspective, it has lots of views where, as a sculpture, it goes AWOL (just like the new ones). To progress, we need to better that weakness, not keep on repeating it.