Progression of Art
Woman Waking Up
Anthony Caro's early sculptures differ greatly from the abstract works which he began to construct from welded steel from the early 1960s onwards, and for which he would become famous. Having served as Henry Moore's studio-assistant since around 1951, Caro's first pieces suggest the stimulus provided by the older artist's practice, but also Caro's attempt to wrest free from Moore's influence. Woman Waking Up is similar to Moore's work in its abstract anthropomorphic form, but eschews his direct carving technique in favor of the more old-fashioned process of modelling in clay.
Woman Waking Up was made by dropping soft clay from a height, creating an amorphous mass which was then manipulated into a figurative shape (based on the traditional sculptural form of the reclining nude). Utilizing a significant element of chance in the composition process, Caro created a work whose pitted and rough surface contrasted deliberately with the characteristically smooth patina of Moore's works in bronze and stone.
The critic Jorella Andrews argues that this work represents "a quest to try and find new parameters for sculpture, to push it as far as it could go, using relentless experimentation at a material and compositional level. Indeed, in their unformedness, these figurative works have themselves often been described as full of yearning: the body as experienced from the inside, striving to break out of its confines, to find definition and release." However, various aspects of the piece, including the broadly representative form, and the use of a base for the sculpture, indicate the scope of developments still to come in terms of the abstract character of Caro's work.
Bronze - Tate, London
Twenty Four Hours
Twenty Four Hours is often described as Caro's first truly abstract sculpture, one which breaks away entirely from the conventions of figurative representation. As a student, and while working for Henry Moore, Caro had produced experimental works which nonetheless remained within the bounds of figurative modelling. But following his trip to the USA in 1959, he completely redefined his practice.
That redefinition is evident partly from Caro's construction process. Rather than modelling or carving, Caro created this work by industrial welding, a technique which would become something of a signature style. He also disposed of the plinth, placing the sculpture directly on the floor, thus situating it emphatically in the 'real world', and in the physical and sensory space of the viewer. Such gestures represent a conspicuous rejection of the inherited conventions of both classical and modern sculpture. The circular form behind the central trapezoid shape, meanwhile, might imply an affinity with the American painter Kenneth Noland, whose work Caro had encountered in the US, and which often features concentric rings. Any element of conscious homage seems unlikely, however, as the piece was created through an instinctive process of experiment and chance-based discovery. Caro latter recalling thinking to himself: "[t]hat sculpture is right, it's the way I want it. I'm into something I don't know about and I'm going to keep going and see where I get to."
Almost all subsequent developments in Caro's practice can be traced back to the formative gesture represented by Twenty Four Hours, and many of the individual figural forms and motifs found in the work would reappear across the remainder of Caro's career. This is also seen as a vital work in the history of British sculpture, defining a post-war aesthetic of pure abstraction of which Caro was the primary exponent.
Painted steel - Tate, London
Early One Morning
Early One Morning is seen as one of Caro's boldest and most sophisticated works. Painted in bright red, and constructed from disparate-seeming steel components, it confounds the viewer's expectations in subtle but profound ways. It has something of the haphazard quality of an assemblage, but is granted a sense of homogeneity and harmony by the uniform color.
Early One Morning can be primarily seen as an exploration of spatiality, and as an interrogation of the formal parameters of different artistic media. Caro makes the unprecedented move of arranging his sculptural elements along a horizontal plane: viewed head-on, they thus seem concentrated into an almost pictorial form, with the metal square at the back serving as a canvas (Caro himself noted that "although for this piece, a work by Alexander Calder was my initial suggestion, my source was invariably painting rather than sculpture.") As soon as the viewer begins to walk around the piece, however, that pictorial harmony is exploded, and the work seems to expand in space, with new angles and elements appearing and disappearing at every step. This refusal to privilege a single, 'ideal' viewing perspective represents a radical rejection of sculptural convention, and suggests the inability of artistic form to capture physical reality. A significant and related aspect of the viewing process is the time taken to walk around the piece (it is over 20 feet long) which adds a temporal dimension, and grants the sculpture something of the time-bound quality of music. Indeed, Caro later described Early One Morning as "like a song, moving along in time. In this sculpture the parts are separated, so as to open out and extend the sculpture."
The art historian Rosalind Krauss has argued that "[i]n a picture, every dimension of real space must be collapsed onto a flattened, vertically oriented plane; and in Early One Morning Caro constructs a model of this experience of a world compressed into the uprightness of painting." In another sense, however, this experience of the work as a picture is confounded by its simultaneous presence as a brute physical object. Krauss goes on: "[t]he achievement of Early One Morning is not only that it provides these two possibilities but that it shows them to be mutually incompatible." It is also a piece which stands at the forefront of developments in abstract sculpture globally across the late-20th century, being comparable in both color and compositional material, for example, to many subsequent works by Mark di Suvero.
Painted steel and aluminum - Tate, London
Table Piece LXXXVIII (The Deluge)
In 1966, Caro began to experiment with a new format for his sculptures: rather than making large-scale works for placement on gallery floors, he began to create smaller, "table sculptures", to sit at the edges of flat surfaces. Although this work might resemble a maquette, then - a scale-model preparatory to a larger, finished work - it is an artwork in its own right; indeed, the 'hanging' format made Caro's established technique of placing his works directly on the ground impossible.
The scale of works such as The Deluge is vital to their appeal, and in defining their relationship with the viewer. Not only does their reduced size stand in striking contrast with the large works, such as Early One Morning, to which Caro's audiences had grown accustomed, but it also confirmed their status as pieces for domestic settings, intended to coexist with the viewer as everyday objects rather than (or as well as) works of art. Caro noted that "my Table Pieces are not models inhabiting a pretence world, but relate to a person like a cup or a jug. Since the edge is basic to the table all the Table Pieces make use of this edge which itself becomes an integral element of the piece." This particular Table Piece also makes a series of allusions to the history of modern painting, as the art historian Ann Hindry notes: "[w]ith his Table Pieces, [Caro] gave himself the means [...] to implement a translation or transfer of the values of pictorial art to sculpture. The Deluge (1969-70) is one of the first pieces to present a three-dimensional interpretation of the arabesques of Matisse."
Responding again to painting rather than sculpture as his primary source of inspiration, with these smaller, more lyrical works Caro took another step in re-defining the formal parameters of sculpture, re-framing its spatial relationship to the viewer through its partial suspension in the air.
Steel - Tate, London
Prairie is one of Caro's masterpieces, and another example of the phase of work represented by Early One Morning. Combining the impressions of haphazard arrangement and conscious design (as partly implied, again, by the homogenous color-gloss), the yellow-ochre bars articulate lines and planes which seem to continue beyond the bounds of the sculpture, creating a sense of openness and expansiveness. The organic color-palette, meanwhile, in combination with the hint provided by the title, suggests an agricultural landscape, complete with plough-lined fields.
Like Early One Morning (1962), Prairie extends outwards rather than upwards, offering a reconceptualization of the space defined by sculptural form. Once again, walking around the piece provides a series of shifting and receding sightlines, generating tension between the impressions of modelled shape and of uncontrollable physical mass. More than in his 1962 work, however, Caro introduces a certain quality of weightlessness into this piece, a paradoxical association for an object made of solid steel: from some angles, the central plane seems to be floating in space, while from others the means of support is obvious. Again, this poses subtle questions about the distinctions between the illusory space of art and the 'real world' of physical matter.
The art critic Michael Fried was deeply struck by Prairie when he first saw it, stating in his commentary on the work that Caro had incorporated the very ground on which the sculpture sat into the form of the work, as "the last, or lowest, of the three levels which, as abstract conception, Prairie comprises." In so doing, Fried argued, Caro had framed a series of conceptual and formal distinctions between the sculpture and the ground beneath, as different arrangements of physical mass: "Prairie defines the ground not as that which ultimately supports everything else, but as that which does not itself require support. It makes this fact about the ground both phenomenologically surprising and sculpturally significant [...] the result is an extraordinary marriage of illusion and structural obviousness."
Painted steel - Private collection
In the 1970s, Caro began to experiment with new technical approaches and presentational formats for his work, abandoning the bright colors that had made many of his earlier sculptures so distinctive. In 1977, he was working at Emma Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada with the sculptor Douglas Bentham. In this remote location, it was difficult to source the heavy metals he had used in his previous works, so Caro requested some of the light, thin steel tubes used in local agriculture and industry. With these materials he was able to work more spontaneously and instinctively; the resulting sculptures, such as Emma Dipper, seem almost like line drawings composed in the air.
With this work, Caro 'opened up' the space of the sculpture, framing the spaces in-between the structural elements as key compositional features (as previous abstract sculptors such as Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo had also attempted). This was a way of eliminating the impression of monumentality from sculpture; Caro himself stated: "I was interested in the possibility of feeling my way into sculptural space from within, instead of without." As the art historian Ann Hindry describes, works such as Emma Dipper thus introduce a new quality of dynamism into Caro's practice: "[v]oid at their centre, they unfurl in space apparently random lines that are nonetheless held by small orthogonal structures, hollow or solid. The consequent 'stop and go' tension increases the overall dynamic."
Applying this compositional approach over a number of years, Caro created a series of striking and original works, also including Emma Dance (1977), and National Gallery Ledge Piece (1978), which combines that approach with the Table Piece format. If Caro's 1960s sculptures had encouraged the viewer to see sculptural forms emerging and disintegrating as they traversed the work, with this format the physical elements of the sculpture almost becomes a secondary, framing device: a way of presenting the spaces which the structure contained.
Painted steel - Tate, London
In the 1980s, Caro became interested in combining sculptural tropes with architectural ones, creating what he called "sculpitecture"; Elephant Palace is an important example of such work. Whereas his 1970s practice was characterized by its openness and linearity, his architectural pieces are notably 'closed-off', as the art historian Ian Barker notes: "Elephant Palace marks a real change in his work because it presents a skin. We see the outside only."
This particular work was inspired by Caro's travels: the motif of the elephant's head suggests a memory of his time India, but in a more general sense, it was a visit to Greece which prompted him to consider the relationship between the body - and other organic forms - and the rectilinear spaces of architecture. In Elephant Palace, Caro presents an architectural 'entrance' which also seems like a mouth or ears, and a roof which also seems like the domed skull of a large animal. Connotations of the organic and the inorganic are thus brought together to suggest a tension between natural and man-made worlds.
Caro's 1980s works - also including pieces such as Oracle (1983-85) and Xanadu (1986-88) - are interesting in suggesting that his sense of sculptural space had, in a sense, come full circle. Having exploded the space of the sculpture in the 1960s, and hollowed it out in his 1970s works - so that the physical elements of the work framed the gaps between them - he began once more to confront the viewer with solid, sculptural mass (though still suggesting inner recesses and voids).
Steel - Tate, London
During the 1990s, as part of his development of "sculpitecture", Caro looked for opportunities to work with architects and engineers. One of the results was a collaboration with the architect Norman Foster and the engineering team Arpus, on a bridge that would cross the Thames in London, connecting the area in-front of St Paul's Cathedral with the grounds of the Tate Modern Gallery. (Both were due to open in 2000, but due to structural complications, the bridge finally opened in 2002).
The Millennium Bridge combines Caro's interests in architecture, minimal composition, the material qualities of steel, and engineering. The artistic and architectural qualities of the work are deeply complementary, with a complex, shallow suspension system, elided in the simple and elegant overall appearance, allowing panoramic views across the city. Through the design process, however, Caro discovered that an artist's way of thinking was often very different from an architect's. In conversation with Norman Foster, he noted: "[m]y way of working is quite different from yours, as I discovered when we worked together on the Millennium Bridge. Your thinking is from the tiny to the massive, and because you think with sketches, you get grandeur and a sense of overallness. Later you focus on the detail."
As a work designed solely for the public realm and for practical use, Caro followed up on the implications of earlier gestures such as removing the sculptural plinth by producing a work which was wholly incorporated into the everyday space of the city-dweller. The Millennium Bridge was also intended to fulfil a social function, promoting connectedness in the city, and revitalizing areas that were previously under-visited; indeed, it is a work intimately familiar to almost anyone who has visited London, and thus, more than any of Caro's other pieces, confirms his status as one of the most ubiquitous artists of his era.
Steel suspension bridge - City of London