Anthony Caro (1924-2013)
Bench Mark
rusted and varnished steel
30 1/4 x 54 x 43 in. (76.8 x 137.2 x 109.2 cm.)
Executed in 1976-1977.
Acquavella Gallery, New York
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 1 November 1984, lot 181
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
D. Blume, Anthony Caro, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, Cologne, 1981, p. 240, no. 1154 (illustrated).

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

"I have been trying to eliminate references and make truly abstract sculpture, 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 W. Rubin, Anthony Caro, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1975, p. 99)

Created shortly after his major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Anthony Caro’s Bench Mark is an important work from the artist’s oeuvre of the 1970s. A large, floor-mounted sculpture which displays that innovation and desire to push forward the boundaries of traditional art making. Non-referential, conceptual, rigorous and intellectual, the sculpture is constructed employing an assemblage aesthetic of salvaged steel materials, with their distinctive raw and rusted patina, that was so characteristic a choice of this groundbreaking modernist. Organized around sets of alternately interlocking, overlapping, and intersecting planes, diverse fragments balance in graceful harmony. Linear elements constitute the space of the sculpture, constructing a dynamic interaction between vertical and horizontal forces, the physical matter of the sculpture enveloping an open core. “He clung tenaciously to a belief in the language of three-dimensional form—often comparing the process of sculpture to musical composition. All his sculptures depend on an intuitive sense of balance and placement, and on the harmonious relationship between one part and another” (“Sir Anthony Caro Obituary,” The Telegraph, October 24, 2013).

Unequivocally not static, Caro’s work does not simply stand, but rather dynamically rises, turns, stretches and expands, assuming new forms, new appearances as the viewer circles the work. Bench Mark, in Caro’s words, takes sculpture “down from the plinth” (the pedestal traditional sculptures are usually displayed on), placing it on the floor and in the same physical space as the viewer. By doing so, Caro created a different relationship between the sculpture and the viewer, a more direct, one-on-one relationship between viewer and artwork. In contrast with classical sculpture practice, with its emphasis on solid forms, Bench Mark uses the negative space at its center to great effect, achieving an open core, defined by air rather than solid matter, to make a distinctive statement about new directions, new possibilities in sculpture. In form and in selection of materials, the sculpture is an outstanding example of Caro’s signature style. In using raw, scrap steel, Caro chose to avoid the highly refined finish and patina typically associated with fine art sculpture as traditionally conceived, instead choosing materials that position his sculptures—like architecture—in the everyday world. He sought beauty and harmony through his unconventional choices of materials. Moreover, he wanted to evoke a response in viewers that was not only visual but also corporeal. He remarked, “I always said I’d never make things that aren’t human in feeling! I want to touch the gut, the heart” (B. McAvera, “Influence, Exchange and Stimulus: A Conversation with Sir Anthony Caro,” Sculpture, Vol. 21, No. 2, March 2002).


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