Abstract Critical

Collaborating with Caro: Symposium

Written by Sam Cornish

 

Image courtesy of Barford Sculptures

Image courtesy of Barford Sculptures

Central Saint Martins is delighted to host a symposium celebrating Anthony Caro’s long and influential contribution as a sculptor, teacher and collaborator.

The symposium will explore the sculpture and teaching of Anthony Caro (1924-2013) through a series of talks and panel discussions with artists, academics and studio assistants.

While Caro’s individual achievements as an artist are self-evident his commitment to sculpture as a social activity is less well known or documented. As a teacher at St Martin’s from the late fifties he abolished individual working spaces, and insisted on discussing sculpture in group ‘Crits’ and public ‘Forums’. In the eighties he founded the Triangle Workshops, which brought artists from around the world together for a number of weeks, to make art alongside each other in a ‘pressure-cooker situation’ where competition and discussion were encouraged.

As likely to take inspiration from the work of students and his immediate contemporaries as from classical Greece, Rembrandt or Picasso, Caro adopted a restless, experimental and improvisational approach throughout his career.  In addition to his long-standing relationship with his studio assistant Pat Cunningham, who worked for Caro for over 40 years, a succession of young artists worked alongside him to expand the scale and ambition of his sculpture.

Drawing on the testimony of fellow artists, studio assistants, and his colleagues at St Martin’s and Triangle, the symposium sets out explore Caro’s legacy from the perspective of different generations.

Speakers include: William Tucker, Phillip King, Tim Scott, David Evison, Peter Hide, Robin Greenwood, Hamish Black, Jenny Dunseath, Frances Richardson, Anna Best, Elena Crippa, Rebecca Fortnum, Ian Dawson, Olivia Bax and Neil Ayling.

Schedule and more information here

Places are limited – book a free ticket here

  1. Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann said…

    I thought it was a really interesting day with welcome changes of pace and a thought provoking blend of approaches – though of course some moments felt stronger than others. What really hit home for me (as for John, apparently) was the particularity of Caro’s removal from making: with the analogy of a film director constantly ringing in my head. Whilst this is – as Sam has pointed out – a revelation that is available in the literature, it is one that I have not seen dwelt upon in public (for perhaps obvious, but nonetheless revealing, reasons). The end of the day was in depth and illuminating – offering divergent but deep-rooted and cogent critique of the propositions embodied in the work; a true homage (without bland sentimentality), in a manner the day emphasised was central to Caro’s way of making art and teaching. Again, all too rare.

    The controversial aspects of the day do in many ways seem generational (at least in terms of the age of the participants), but in this I found they shone some light into the nature of the some of the gulfs that have opened up between art education and, dare I say it, ‘Theory’ then and now. Particularly revelatory seems to be the tension which the structure of triangle workshops came under in bridging out of the Anglo-Saxon triangle and into Africa. The very stuttering nature of the conversation here, the tensions in what wasn’t said and what was grasped at, were what seemed revealing – and could in themselves perhaps form the starting point in another conference. That the probable audience of such a conference and Robin’s suggested one would most likely be very different is, I think, to the credit of the actual one. As is the fact that it left me hungry for more

  2. Patrick Jones said…

    It is still very concerning for me how far Academia and society in general is from the artists true concerns.Maybe its more shocking in England because everybody claims to be so cultured.The practical quality of real art,such as John Hoylands disquiet with his own developing painting in the bbc film,shocks the cognisenti who prefer to guffaw knowingly at Emins tent.

    • John Bunker said…

      So if the Spectator is to be believed another old YBA is pretty much in charge of and has bought a large swathe of Hoyland’s work! Now that everyone has finished guffawing knowingly at his shark Hirst is looking to curate a major Hoyland retrospective. I find it very intriguing that behind the media hype and supposedly entrenched aesthetic and ideological oppositions- artists busily seek out relationships across generational divides. Good on’m!

  3. Patrick Jones said…

    Couldnt agree more Robin.No disrespect to Sam ,the whole thing wasnt what I expected at all.Lets try and find a way to continue the dialogue and include Abstract Painting ,which was Tonys inspiration in part.

    • John Bunker said…

      Robin and Patrick are talking as either a maker of steel sculpture or as a participant of earlier Triangle workshops- and that is fair enough. But I thought the day, as it turned out, was a very intriguing introduction to Caro’s work as a collaborative process. ( I guess the clue to the emphasis of the day was in the title and I did not realise just how ‘hands off’ Caro was).

      This approach to Caro, I think, took the debates around his sculpture into territory that younger artists and students might be able to relate to. Listening to some of Caro’s young studio assistants who are practising sculptors themselves was particularly interesting in this respect.

      Being told in the final session that steel is heavy and Caro made ‘masterpieces’ or that ‘After Olympia’ might have been better without a long unpunctuated platform is all well and good. But Robin’s point that what Caro did with sculpture was to bring it down off pedestals and make it occupy the same kind of physical space as us humans do- seemed most pertinent. As to what then happened to sculpture generally with all the positives and negatives that this big move to the floor implies…. Well….. I think this change in sculpture and how it was ‘taught’ (that Elena Crippa touched on in her seminar) and how Caro fits in it- is definitely worth more focused and serious debate. A debate younger artists might learn a lot from. Here’s to the next Caro Symposium! Well done Sam for getting some of these debates off the ground!

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        What puzzled me was the fact that many of the speakers, even his young assistants who had spent years working with him, didn’t seem to have much of a clue about the true nature and significance of his work – if, that is, we are to judge from what people both said and made themselves. It actually made me wonder a little if Caro himself knew…

        No doubt, John, you will find that arrogant and portentous, but you in turn are being a little age-ist here. Who cares how old people are, it’s who has insight into the work that matters. Taking the debate into areas that young people might relate to is not necessarily anything better than nonsense.

  4. Patrick Jones said…

    The event at Central St Martins was a series of missed opportunities for real discussion of Caros legacy.The other sculptors were by and large informative and generous,but the moderator failed to get to grips with what really happened to the Triangle workshops.The opportunity was missed to discuss Caros love of Painting,to the extent that he was seriously influenced by its concerns.Everybody had their say about their own practise,which in most cases fell lamentably short of the Master.Academic ,gender,racial issues were brought up like necessary medicine but it wasnt until the Serra opening later at Gagosian that I heard a fascinating discussion of Illusion in Sculpture.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      I tend to agree, Patrick, and as I recently tweeted, the point at which it ended in the afternoon would have been the place to profitably start from. A round-table discussion of what artists (and especially abstract sculptors) working now think of Caro’s legacy, and how they work out of and/or contradict his achievements, could have been very exciting. It might be worth trying again sometime before everyone drops off their perch?

      I suspect Sam’s initial ideas for this symposium were somewhat hijacked. The earlier parts of the day were bogged down in tame anecdote, academic recycling and rather obscure intellectualising, which at times seemed to me to have little or nothing to do with either Caro or sculpture. The Triangle Workshops section in particular threw little light on any contribution Caro made, and should have concentrated on the early years in Mashomack, which again could have fed back into a proper critique of the ideas about abstract art-making that underlay it. Do it again, CSM.

      • Sam said…

        Translated “my bit was good; not sure about the rest”

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Actually very sure about the rest. I thought the contributions of Peter Hide and David Evison in the last section were very good, and also Tim Scott’s contribution at the end. Don’t know about my bit, can’t say. But the thing could have taken off at that point. Sorry if I misunderstood your intentions.

  5. Patrick Jones said…

    I hope for some discussion of his last works currently showing at Annely Juda gallery,incorporating coloured plexiglass into his familiar steel structures.I personally enjoyed the show ,while understanding the argument about the sculptures plainly having a front and back.I felt the coloured light created by the plexi gave a mood to each work,particularly the low green work and the yellow and grey vertical in the back room.Im sure there will be a review on Ab crit and look forward to other reactions.Go see the show which is on two floors and rewards long looking!

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Let’s just recall the stunning and groundbreaking perspex works of Tim Scott in the sixties – “Bird in Arras” series, being perhaps the best examples. The latest Caro’s don’t get near to that quality; nor, sadly, do I think they repay prolonged looking. Perhaps the early Scott’s didn’t either, but they had the spatial and structural “cojones” that the latest Caros lack.

      • Patrick Jones said…

        Thanks Robin ,Its very difficult to argue this point without visual examples.Where would I find Tim Scotts pieces in the flesh[or in illustration] to check them out?However I found Caro at nearly 90,still vigorous and challenging himself.There was a redundancy in the steel details[i.e the round element in the blue sculpture]and to my mind they could have gone further to de-materialise,replacing the steel backs with transparent sheets would have allowed understanding of the whole form,without front and back views.