Anthony Caro certainly put enough time into his sculptural practice to justify his title as one of the greatest British sculptors. The show of latest pieces currently at Annely Juda complements his show at Gagosian which took place shortly before he died.
In New York, he showed a series of sculptures inspired by his unrealised public art piece on Park Avenue, New York. These pieces rose out of the planning process. Inspired by the movement of cars and chaotic soul of the city, Caro’s works were static industrial creatures evoking moments of calm under monikers such as Clouds or Solitude. They showed Caro’s work at its best. Each piece self-contained and telling a very specific story through space. There is no way one could pass through them without stopping, detaching from it and contemplating. It is that step back that the viewer was forced to make which is key to appreciate the true protagonist of Caro’s sculptures: space.
During his 1960s breakthrough, Caro took sculpture from the plinth and placed it on the floor. An act we would hardly see as radical nowadays, but its impact on sculpture and audience interaction are almost unquantifiable. Often sighted as the artist who took over the helm of abstract sculpture from Henry Moore, his work has evolved the language of abstract sculpture and influenced his contemporaries. Caro made sculptures across the globe, and his work has even found its way into a church in France.
Having said this, none of this, though, quite prepares you for the sense of whimsy and abandon you get in this show of final sculptures, all made just a few months before his death in 2013. They are a masterclass because in these pieces he conflates genres (such as still life, sculpture, installation) in order to produce something that confirms what he was always obsessed with. I am referring of course to the sculptural systems as autonomous entities.
Uniting the works is the use of Perspex – a new material for Caro – with each piece featuring various upright or curved slabs that cut through or arc around his trademark cluster of reclaimed industrial objects. The result is a jarring, almost comical contrast between the battered, distressed metal and the sleek, shiny purity of the Perspex. Not only that, but the Perspex itself often comes in rich, zingy colours – translucent yellows and blues, hues titled things like ‘frosted lime zest – giving each piece a deliciously retro, vaguely childlike feel, like a giant toy. The steel funnels, buffers and bright red Perspex of ‘End of Time’, for instance, combine to suggest an oversized model steam engine.
There is something of Morandi in these pieces or Sanchez Cotan. The poetic way of arranging the diagonals against the verticals is not only timely but also very serious. Even the most eccentric constructions offer up a concentrated study of form, inviting you to scrutinise how various components stack and cascade, how different viewing angles reveal sudden, surprising aspects. Each sculpture becomes a kind of intellectual and aesthetic puzzle – keenly pleasurable and, in a work such as ‘Sundown’, with its elegiac echoes of a funeral pyre, extremely poignant.
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