An innovative sculptor of industrial steel
Sir Anthony Caro: Born: March 8th, 1924; Died: October 23rd, 2013
Sir Anthony Caro, with his 1962 work ‘Sculpture Two’, who has died after suffering a heart attack
Sir Anthony Caro, who has died aged 89, was a pre-eminent artist of the post-war era who created a new language for abstract sculpture in the 1960s with brightly coloured, horizontal assemblages of welded steel
“In all of modern art, there have only been a handful of truly great sculptors, and Anthony Caro is one of them,” said Michael Fried, a professor of art history at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
A one-time assistant to the sculptor Henry Moore, Caro established himself as a rising sculptor in Britain in the mid-1950s with rough-hewn, expressionistic works that depicted struggling human figures, gravity-bound and laden with the weight of their own flesh.
He experienced an artistic conversion in 1959 on a trip to the United States in which he was exposed to David Smith’s sculpture as well as the work of the colour-field painters Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Jules Olitski. “America made me see that there are no barriers and no regulations,” he said.
Caro embraced Smith’s use of industrial materials that implied a radical break with the traditions of monumental sculpture. He began working with steel plates, beams, metal tubes and wire mesh, materials with no art-historical associations.
Mass, weight, volume
He applied brilliant colour to his geometric forms, which put an emphasis on the purely pictorial qualities of his work rather than the traditional sculptural qualities of mass, weight and volume.
Colour imparted a sense of lightness that made his works seem to hover, touching the ground lightly at a few points. “I have been trying to eliminate references and make truly abstract sculpture, composing the parts of the pieces like notes in music,” he told William Rubin, who, as the director of the Museum of Modern Art’s department of painting and sculpture, organised the first US retrospective of Caro’s work in 1975.
He continued: “Just as a succession of these make up a melody or a 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 work 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.”
Caro’s articulated assemblages, derived from constructivism and cubism, seemed to deny the premises of monumental sculpture. He took them off the traditional plinth and placed them on the floor, in the viewer’s space, where their low horizontality forced the eye downward . Viewers had to circumnavigate a Caro, see it from all angles and let the forms make a cumulative statement.
Caro’s work evolved in unexpected ways. He abandoned colour in the 1970s and began producing larger, closed forms that were often made from untreated, rolled steel, which he acquired from mills.