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Sir Anthony Caro Lot 09 ModBritEve
Sir Anthony Caro, O.M., R.A. (1924-2013)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more THE TUTTLEMAN COLLECTION
Sir Anthony Caro, O.M., R.A. (1924-2013)

London

Details
Sir Anthony Caro, O.M., R.A. (1924-2013)
London
steel painted red, unique.
148 in. (376 cm.) long
Executed in 1966, this work is unique.
Provenance
with Fontana Gallery, Pennsylvania, June 1986, where purchased by the present owners.
Literature
D. Blume, Anthony Caro: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, Steel Sculptures 1960-1980, Cologne, 1981, p. 196, no. 888, illustrated.
D. Waldman, Anthony Caro, Oxford, 1982, pp. 52-53, pl. 48.
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William Porter
William Porter

Lot Essay

‘Steel is such a nice material to use … It can move. It’s terribly easy, you just stick it or you cut it off, and bang! you’re there: it’s so direct. I think Manet was very direct, he didn’t prepare his canvases like Courbet, he just put paint straight on and it’s very like that with steel’ (Anthony Caro)

‘The whole thing went from steady, let’s be good, let’s make good art sort of thing, to let’s blast it apart, let’s make it great, now we’ve really got to do something. You know? I can’t describe that raising of a key, that extra turn of a screw, that extra twist of excitement about America then and about the endeavour that’s required of those that are going to work in that scene’ (Anthony Caro)

‘I think sculpture comes close to architecture. It also comes close to painting. There are three disciplines and they are very alive, and you see that in the Renaissance. So although my work comes up to the edge of architecture I don’t think I could ever call myself an architect’ (Anthony Caro)

Joyfully unfolding in three dimensions, London (1966) is a superb early example of Anthony Caro’s groundbreaking abstract sculpture. The work is constructed of steel, and painted entirely in a flat, vibrant red that evokes the buses, phoneboxes or postboxes of the title’s capital city. Its six components are joined by visible welds and rivets, speaking openly of their industrial origin and the process of their making. Far from functional, however, these elements interact with one another in an exuberant dance that pushes the very boundaries of what sculpture can be. A flat steel beam stretches like a low wall almost four metres along the ground; a shorter beam of equal height approaches at ninety degrees, joined to the longer element by a small C-beam balanced along its upper edge. A tall section of I-beam leans jauntily against the shorter panel; another of these, tilted at the same angle, is linked by its flat face to the opposite side of the long wall. Poised between the two, and touching the small C-beam, a curved section of flat steel crests the wall in a gleefully dynamic flourish. With works such as London, Caro undertook a radical freeing of sculpture from its closed, monumental and monolithic tradition. The work’s interplay of shape and balance takes place in the viewer’s world, without a plinth, becoming an open, lyrical and direct exploration of forms in space. It offers no fixed or central point of interest, and demands to be experienced from all sides, appearing constantly and surprisingly different from each angle. Caro recalled in a late interview that he ‘wanted sculpture to be something in its own right, not an illustration or representation, and as real as talking to another person’ (A. Caro, quoted in A. Ramchandani, ‘Anthony Caro,’ The Paris Review, 24 May 2011). London represents a triumph of this artistic mission, and stands at the dawn of a new era for sculpture.

Just seven years before he made London, Caro had reached a dead end. His emphatic, weightily modelled human figures in clay and bronze left him dissatisfied, and were bringing little success. In mid 1959, he met the critic, Clement Greenberg, who convinced him that he needed a radically new direction. Shortly afterwards, Caro won a scholarship to spend two months in the United States, where he befriended Abstract Expressionist painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell and Kenneth Noland, and the sculptor David Smith. Smith’s collage-like constructions in welded metal, whereby he synthesised found objects and discrete parts into expressive, decentralised wholes, was revelatory for Caro. He saw that sculpture could be like drawing or painting in three dimensions, that it needn’t be tied to the figure or confined to the plinth. On his return from New York, he salvaged scrap beams and girders from the London docks and set about constructing the seminal work, Twenty Four Hours (1960). Sculpture was never to be the same again. ‘I had been trapped by the ease of clay,’ he later reflected, ‘by the luscious sensuality of clay that would just do what I wanted it to do. It had got me foxed, it was doing it for me – it was doing it, in a way. Steel’s hard, intractable. It was difficult to work with steel I found, and it gave me just the resistance at the time that I needed’ (A. Caro, quoted in D. Waldman, Anthony Caro, Oxford, 1982, p. 30).

By 1966, as London attests, Caro had mastered his new abstract idiom. Here, we see a process at play not unlike the drawing of Picasso or the découpage of Matisse: the additive method of building the work unit by unit (as opposed to the reductive sculptural method of carving) lends itself to an improvisatory, even musical composition. As in the related work, Early One Morning (1962; Tate), a horizontal axis provides a linear overall direction to proceedings, departing from the decidedly vertical impulse of monumental figurative tradition, and abandoning any idea of a sculptural ‘core.’ The enforced viewpoint is a thing of the past. Caro’s total disregard for the plinth or pedestal, shocking to many in the early 1960s, was vital to his humanising of sculpture, as well as to his achieving its complete and self-sufficient abstraction. A plinth, like a picture frame, defines an imagined or virtual space, separating and distancing us from the sculpture that occupies it. On the floor, the sculpture is in our world (if not necessarily of it), and immediately proposes a different relationship with the viewer: less didactic and imposing, more inviting and open. London displays the facts of its material existence for all to see, asserting its physical reality even as it remains distinct from the world of familiar objects.

This sense of assertive objecthood in Caro’s sculpture might initially tempt a comparison with the work of his American contemporary, the Minimalist, Donald Judd. As Diane Waldman puts it, however, ‘If Caro appears spare and restrained in relation to Smith, he seems positively baroque and expansive in contrast to the Minimalists’ (D. Waldman, Anthony Caro, Oxford 1982, p. 48). Caro’s is an art of extension, not of reduction. A Judd sculpture presents a holistic form, a lone object to be apprehended in its single, self-justifying and self-defining totality. A Caro, on the other hand, unfurls in a gradual synthesis of elements, an experience of sequential apprehension. ‘I have been trying to eliminate references and make truly abstract sculpture,’ he said in 1975, ‘composing the parts of the pieces like notes in music. Just as a succession of these make up a melody or sonata, so I take anonymous units and try to make them cohere in an open way into a sculptural whole. Like music, I would like my sculpture to be the expression of feeling in terms of the material, and like music, I don’t want the entirety of the experience to be given all at once’ (A. Caro, quoted in exhibition catalogue, W. Rubin, Anthony Caro, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1975, p. 99).

Indeed, walking around London, its elements take on an almost narrative quality in their drama of interacting angles and forms. The tilted I-beams chime with one another, and offset the perpendicular relationship between the central wall and its shorter adjunct; the playful curve that crowns the wall provides a swoop of tension in the opposite direction. As the work’s title and its vivid red amply demonstrate, furthermore, even though Caro’s sculpture may be ‘truly abstract,’ that does not preclude its being ‘evocative’ – an idea that was complete anathema to Judd. ‘I like evocative but I don’t like figurative’ Caro once said. ‘I want everything I make to have meaning. I don’t want it to be empty’ (A. Caro, quoted in A. Ramchandani, ‘Anthony Caro,’ The Paris Review, 24 May 2011). London is anything but empty: its magnetic presence imbues our experience of being in its space with a beguiling sense of magic. Austere yet sensuous, industrial yet elegant, massive yet somehow weightless, this work displays Caro’s pioneering and poetic command of material at its most brightly compelling, bringing sculpture into the uncharted new territories of the real world.

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