Modernist Sculptor Anthony Caro Dies at 89

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 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.

Anthony Caro quoted by William Rubin; Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1975, 99

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Sculpture Seven (1961), Steel, painted green, blue & brown, 178 x 537 x 105.5cm

 . . . A characteristic sculpture by Caro consists, I want to say, in the mutual and naked juxtaposition of the I-beams, girders, cylinders, lengths of piping, sheet metal, and grill that it comprises rather than in the compound object that they compose. The mutual inflection of one clement by another, rather than the identity of each, is what is crucial—though of course altering the identity of any element would be at least as drastic as altering its placement . . . The individual elements bestow significance on one another precisely by virtue of their juxtaposition: it is in this sense, a sense inextricably involved with the concept of meaning, that everything in Caro’s art that is worth looking at is in its syntax. Caro’s concentration upon syntax amounts, in Greenberg’s view, to “an emphasis on abstractness, on radical unlikeness to nature.” And Greenberg goes on to remark, “No other sculptor has gone as far from the structural logic of ordinary ponderable things.” It is worth emphasizing, however, that this is a function of more than the lowness, openness, part-by-partness, absence of enclosing profiles and centers of interest, unperspiciousness, etc., of Caro’s sculptures. Rather they defeat, or allay, objecthood by imitating, not gestures exactly, but the efficacy of gesture; like certain music and poetry, they are possessed by the knowledge of the human body and how, in innumerable ways and moods, it makes meaning. It is as though Caro’s sculptures essentialize meaningfulness as such—as though the possibility of meaning what we say and do alone makes his sculpture possible. All this, it is hardly necessary to add, makes Caro’s art a fountainhead of antiliteralist and antitheatrical sensibility . . . 

Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, 1998, 161-2

Sad news today. Writing for The New York Times, William Grimes reports: 

Sir Anthony Caro, a pre-eminent artist of the postwar era who created a new language for abstract sculpture in the 1960s with brightly colored, horizontal assemblages of welded steel that seemed choreographed as much as constructed, died on Wednesday in London. He was 89. / The cause was a heart attack, the Tate Museum said in a statement. / “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 and one of the first critics to write about Mr. Caro in the United States. “Even more than David Smith, his great predecessor, he discovered a path to abstraction in sculpture.” / A onetime assistant to the sculptor Henry Moore, Mr. 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 Mr. Smith’s sculpture as well as the work of the color-field painters Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Jules Olitski. / “America made me see that there are no barriers and no regulations,” he told the critic Lawrence Alloway in 1961. [Continue reading Grimes’ obituary here]

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Arena Piece ‘Entry’ (1995/1996), Wood & steel, painted, 47 x 71 x 32cm

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