Comments on: About Caro Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: alan shipway Sun, 02 Sep 2012 10:31:00 +0000 It’s good that there’s been some discussion here. Perhaps it’s now time to wind it up. A number of commments on this piece seems to have misread it in one way or another and take it that I’m saying something I’m not. Maybe I should have been clearer. So just to make it clear: I’m saying Caro’s sculpture has continued on its original high level since the 1960s – but in works that we rarely get to see or simply don’t get to see, because they’re buried among the output of four decades of lesser work. The ideal would be if someone had the discrimination to pick these out and publish them. And the ideal would also be our appreciation of older work being refreshed, if we could see new images of it.
I hope no-one can argue too much with all of that.

By: Darryl Hughto Fri, 17 Aug 2012 21:40:44 +0000 This couplet I can agree with throughout, with one exception, the dire predicament part is perennial. And I don’t see it as so dire today, or at least any more than usual.
I know I am across the pond and so my experience is limited as most of the best I see comes from the UK or northern Europe. John Gibbons I see quite a bit of and from time to time others I know less about, but enough to see that John is not working in a vacuum.
Over here we have Isherwood who is definitely making sculpture in 3D. He’s found a way by new means to make wonderful marble sculptures. Clay Ellis is pushing the edges too. And there are others.
Many, as Alan suggests, are merely part of the Caro academy, and that part of an earlier comment I also agree with. It was all but an academy when Caro adopted it. He didn’t invent it. I think we have to thank Picasso and Gonzales for raising a means, that when they utilazed it was not new. It had belonged to folk art. Picasso & Gonzales brought this means to a higher level. I think much of what Caro is responsible for is nailing the lid on the academy while ostensibly searching for new in the “post moderns’” aesthetic and thus undermining his more inspired followers. The world conspired to simplify, as it is nature to do, terming all assembled steel sculptors Tony-Lites. I think this is some of what Patrick was referencing earlier. Not cool to motivate Caro personally or make him responsible directly, but it has been the effect of his career and what the art market and writers have made of it, an academy.

By: Darryl Hughto Fri, 17 Aug 2012 20:04:05 +0000 So much verbiage here to respond too.
Perhaps because it’s the most recent comment that offends, I take exception to R Greenwald- like many abstract painters- I wonder where such a generalization comes from. I for one, am very happy for the differences in nature , motivation and language of sculpture and painting . I am further stimulated by attempting to discern the differences between then, where the one leaves off and the other begins and what one can do the other cannot. I remember Greenberg saying Caro’s inspiration to extend sculpture into the territory he did, was because Carowas looking at painting and its means. Though Caro was not alone in taking sculpture off the plinth, he did make great strides into unknown territory for sculpture. There is no virtue inherent in taking sculpture off the pedestal and is not something therefore we should expect every piece thereafter to adhere to as a condition of worthiness, inspiration or polemic.
I have kept fairly current with Caro’s work over the years, and I don’t believe I have missed any periods or styles or types of his work. I think there have been less fertile series, such as the Trojan War series,but within these groups are still masterful and inspirational pieces.. For instance his recent series of galvanized pieces I feel are very good generally with several being masterpieces, though I don’t hear this being said in any reviews of them. Tony is a great sculptor and will make something out of anything he turns his attention too. That being said, no master makes masterpieces every time or in every period.
Is he still leading the way? No. But wouldn’t it be a shame if he were? If our generation had not had any sculptors by now that had advancedbour understanding and challenged our perception of what is sculpture, how is it made, and how does it say it, what a lazy backsliding generation we would be. And by now there should be and is an even younger generation challenging and inspiring us.
I haven’t had time to read carefully all respondents here, but will return to talk more directly to some of the above assertions and positions.

By: Emyr Williams Tue, 14 Aug 2012 22:15:17 +0000 In the works mentioned from the sixties. it seems that each component part sets up its own autonomous “force” – a statement of fact that challenges the other component parts – thus creating a competing series of forces, which are ultimately resolved into speaking with a singular force – the work works, so to speak. I have not seen enough Caro works to dismiss his output of the last 40 years , so I am not entirely comfortable about that generalisation. But I would say that in many of the works after these late sixties sculptures – right up to the present day, the individual parts are subsumed into a more pictorial-style whole – they seem to want to get along from the off and therefore the forces are less abrasive, less forceful and taste kicks in. The work then naturally follows a more tasteful route and the steel and bronze and wood become more and more tasty and sumptuous – they look great in reproduction (is this worrying for a sculptor?), as does Picasso , and they have a more luxurious patina too. They must cost a lot to make! I wonder if your comment about sculpture being harder to make than painting comes out of that realisation of the difficulty of making forces compete and work which a great sculpture can do? Though I am not convinced that sculpture is harder to make. I would say that if painters took on this “forceful” challenge then a happy parity of endeavour could be agreed upon. Painters need to make it happen at light speed too! On Matisse – much as the early work has a toughness – sculptors love em – that is set into sharp relief by the Nice years, I feel that Matisse achieved his greatest painted works in the 40′s- . A quick aside – does anyone else think that in Caro’s figurative/ narrative work , the one with the lumps of cut clay and placed in “shelf – like spaces ” (on the cover of the book of these works) comes out of Picasso’s “Doves” painting? Also, Robin why didn’t you challenge Caro on this viewpoint of his oeuvre during the film you made earlier this year? It would have made quite an interesting discussion or were you wary of that fork-lift?

By: John Holland Tue, 14 Aug 2012 12:52:45 +0000 Robin-
You’re right, to a degree. My pleasure in the piece, as I hinted at the end of my reply, is a little ‘guilty’ (or is it ‘low’?), because it’s not a thing of great sculptural intelligence.
It shares with contemporaneous Minimalist sculptures an overarching objecthood as you put it, a theatricality of engagement (albeit in more nuanced form) that undoubtedly was a dead-end.

Even so, I don’t agree it does ‘next to nothing’, even if what it does is limited. It’s certainly not simply a floor-based relief- it contains tensions between mass and volume, density and space that I find pleasurable. But yes, it’s a simple pleasure, one that maybe is the enjoyment of not a lot being said, as against too much silly stuff being said too loudly (seeing an image linked here of The Barbarians for the first time was a shock).
But then again, I like traction engines.

By: Robin Greenwood Tue, 14 Aug 2012 09:04:37 +0000 John,
‘uningratiating quality, the sense of a confident, unfussy pleasure in the barely articulated lumpen mass of the thing,’… kinda sounds to me like criticism. Is inarticulation in an artwork ever a plus? you’ll have to explain that one…
It is indeed like a piece of industrial hardware, because that is essentially, in its interesting bits, what it is – from a scrapyard. If I said I could show you photos of really much more interesting industrial stuff, which were not sculpture, but were aesthetically even more pleasurable, would that question your criteria?
I think ‘First Light’ is an object-lesson (if you’ll pardon the pun) on where not to go with abstract sculpture – i.e. into the realms of dumb objecthood. In fact, even a superficial analysis of this work brings you up against the clear fact that it is a floor-based relief (a fact which just casts a flicker of doubt across the face of my favourite Caro, ‘Prairie’). As a material object, it is all too present; as a meaningful sculpture, it barely exists.

I think my main point about Caro is this – that the extraordinary work he did in the sixties, where he established a new freed-up optical syntax for abstract sculpture, did not translate in the seventies into a more physical and robust take on three-dimensionality, but instead went down the same path as almost all other sculpture of the time in exploring objecthood in all its aspects. As I’ve said before, abstract art (painting or sculpture)can’t operate simply on what it is; its success has to be based far more upon what it does. A sculpture like ‘First Light’ does next to nothing.

By: John Holland Mon, 13 Aug 2012 22:48:26 +0000 It’s partly what Alan terms its ‘uningratiating’ quality, the sense of a confident, unfussy pleasure in the barely articulated lumpen mass of the thing, and although there is some tension between the solidity (the ‘castness’) of parts against the hollow assemblage of others, I don’t like his allusion to a sarcophagus- it doesn’t have the feel of a container of anything, and the associations feel too portentious to me.
It’s like a ‘found’ piece of industrial hardware in its almost stupid factory table lack of compositional display (it looks as though its ready for molten metal to make other objects) but I find its compressed positives and negatives very sexy, for want of a better word.
Does that make it ‘good’, or just mean I like it? Probably the latter,really.

By: Patrick Jones Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:05:02 +0000 Thank you Alan,That was exactly what he meant,a piece of advice I treasure.Without wanting to get flattened by the anti Caro steamroller,I will mention how generous Tony has been to younger artists.The day after he told me not to be so stupid ,he rang up and personally organised for me to attend the Triangle workshops in N.Y.Flawed or not,and who amongst us isnt,he showed me how artists dont have to follow Bacon but can be personable ,intelligent and erudite.I once cursed him roundly to his face in the back of a flat bed truck ,with Peter Hide and John Foster at the third Triangle for his support of post -modernism.I will desist and be gone as Sam Beckett would say but not before mentioning how pleased I am to see Abstract Criticals new site linking the articles across the board.Particularly as the Abstract Expressionist generation seem to hold more fascination than Caro,Olitski et all and prove more fertile ground,something Greenberg acknowledged in private.P.S.I still love Sculpture with a capital S.and am really glad Tony had the sense not to take up Abstract Painting!

By: Robin Greenwood Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:04:04 +0000 John,
Could we press this a little? Would you care to say why you think ‘First Light’ is a good sculpture?

By: John Holland Mon, 13 Aug 2012 19:36:47 +0000 Although I think you’re right about the inability of critics, and more particularly curators, to judge the output of major artists like Caro by a serious assessment of individual works, it seems a bit unfair to single Caro out for an inability to maintain the intensity and inventiveness of his early work.
How many artists can anyone name who maintain the fire of their creative breakthroughs for their majority of their working life?
Of course he’s made a lot of dull, rather pompous work in recent years, as highly lauded artists are liable to do, but I think works like First Light are very good indeed.

The point is not that Caro has declined (of course he has), it’s the inability of the art world to deal with what is in front of it honestly and specifically.