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Caro, Sir Anthony Alfred [Tony]free

(1924–2013)
  • Julius Bryant

Sir Anthony Alfred Caro (1924–2013)

by Eamonn McCabe, 2004

© Eamonn McCabe

Caro, Sir Anthony Alfred [Tony] (1924–2013), sculptor, was born on 8 March 1924 at Voewood, Motspur Park, Old Malden, Surrey, the youngest of three children of Alfred Haldinstein Caro (1884–1950), a successful City of London stockbroker, and his wife, Mary Rose Edith, née Haldinstein (1895–1995). He was originally named Edward Alfred (later changed to Anthony Alfred; he was usually known as Tony). His father later bought a country house and farm, Barford, in Churt, Surrey, after which Caro named his business, Barford Sculptures. Caro's father had married his cousin, Mary Haldinstein, niece of the painter and illustrator Frank L. Emanuel. The family descended from the sixteenth-century scholar Rabbi Josef Caro. Caro's great-great-grandfather Rabbi Simon Caro had come to England from Poland in 1841, settling in Norwich. Caro's father expected him to join the family firm as a stockbroker.

Training, marriage, and teaching

At Charterhouse School in Surrey (1937–42) Caro's best subject was mathematics, but he also enjoyed modelling in clay. Encouraging his interest in sculpture, his housemaster introduced him to the sculptor Charles Wheeler, in whose studio he worked in the school holidays from 1939. From 1942 to 1944 he studied mechanical sciences at Christ's College, Cambridge, and in the holidays continued making sculpture at Farnham School of Art, Surrey. In September 1944 he applied to join the Royal Navy (Fleet Air Arm) and was soon stationed in Plymouth as an air engineer officer. There he learned to weld and made his first abstract sculpture.

Following demobilization, in September 1946 Caro enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic to study sculpture under Geoffrey Deeley and a year later he continued his studies at the Royal Academy's sculpture school under successive visitors (part-time tutors): Richard Garbe, Alfred Hardiman, Gilbert Ledward, Siegfried Charoux, William McMillan, Arnold Machin, and Charles Wheeler. In 1950 Maurice Lambert was appointed master of the sculpture school. Fellow students included Frank Martin (appointed head of sculpture at St Martin's School of Art in 1953) and, in the architecture school, Peter Smithson. A successful Royal Academy student in the figurative classical tradition, Caro won the Landseer prize in 1948 and 1949 and one bronze medal (for composition) and two silver medals (for clay figure modelling and carving). In the life class he met a painting student, Sheila May Girling (1924–2015), who became his lifelong collaborator and critic; she was the daughter of Cyril Stanley Girling, businessman. They married at St Paul's, Knightsbridge, on 17 December 1949 and had two sons, Tim (b. 1951) and Paul (b. 1958).

In 1951 Caro visited Henry Moore, uninvited, at his home, Hatchlands in Hertfordshire, and offered to join his studio team. Moore told him to come back in six months' time; six months later to the day Caro returned and was hired as a part-time assistant. From Moore (and his library) Caro discovered Picasso, cubism, surrealism, and African art. At London galleries he admired the art of Bacon, Paolozzi, Dubuffet, and De Kooning. In 1953, recommended by Frank Martin, he began teaching at St Martin's School of Art, part-time (until 1981). Through Caro's questioning of all assumptions about sculpture his teaching may have been more influential than his sculptures. Students at St Martin's at the time included Richard Deacon, Barry Flanagan, Gilbert Prousch, and George Passmore (known as Gilbert and George), Phillip King, Richard Long, Tim Scott, and William Tucker.

Early sculptures

Caro first showed his work in group exhibitions (at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1955 and at Gimpel Fils Gallery in 1956) and had his first solo exhibition in Milan (at the Galleria del Naviglio in 1956). His expressive single figures, cast in bronze, attracted praise and in 1958 he contributed to exhibitions in Brussels, Arnhem, Pittsburgh, and at the Venice Biennale. In 1959 his bronze figures achieved recognition when he exhibited in biennales in Antwerp and Carrara and won the sculpture prize at the first Paris Biennale des Jeunes, and when Woman Waking Up (1955) was purchased by the Tate Gallery on the recommendation of Henry Moore. The same year, through William Turnbull, Caro met Clement Greenberg. Ready for a change in direction, he visited North America later that year, for the first time, and travelled to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Mexico, meeting many artists, including Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and David Smith.

Returning home, Caro made Twenty-Four Hours (1960, Tate) from industrial scrap metal and placed it direct on the ground, without a plinth, to relate more immediately to the spectator with its own ‘presence’. For Midday (1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York) he deployed steel I-beams and painted the resulting sculpture bright yellow. At St Martin's School of Art he and Frank Martin set up a welding workshop and encouraged students to experiment. The following year he met and won another champion, the American critic and academic Michael Fried. Caro achieved a new sense of weightlessness with Early One Morning (1962, Tate) and took the theme further with Prairie (1967, Menil collection). His exhibition of fifteen new abstract metal sculptures, curated by Bryan Robertson at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1963, excited the national press and a new generation of sculptors. The show challenged the orthodoxy of modern sculpture, articulated by Moore's champion, Herbert Read, that saw mass and volume as the medium's defining fundamentals and required ‘truth to materials’ and ‘tactile values’. By contrast, Caro's constructed linear sculptures lacked volume and played with space, framing, stirring, dividing, and penetrating the air, in the alternative tradition of ‘drawing in space’ through assemblage, as pioneered by Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Picasso. Caro's use of bright coloured paint denied the materiality of steel while his choice of evocative titles, taken simply from the commercial brand labels on his paint cans, seems like cavalier replies to the literary intellectual critics who, he felt, dominated art in Britain.

Between 1963 and 1965 Caro taught part-time at Bennington College, Vermont, as a visiting faculty member, with Jules Olitski, Paul Feeley, and other painters, and lived not far from the studios of David Smith and Kenneth Noland. He became a welcome member of the ‘Greenberg family’. In a now classic article on Caro by Greenberg, published in 1965, the critic proclaimed him the true heir to David Smith, explicitly in preference to the American sculptor Alexander Calder. Caro became an Anglo-American artist, visiting and working in the USA three or four times a year and showing at galleries in New York and Toronto. His transatlantic status was such that he was included in the exhibition 'American Sculpture of the Sixties' (1967, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Caro's friendship with Michael Fried led to a series of hand-size sculptures known as Table Pieces (from 1966) that poised and played on the edges of tables and plinths. In 1966 he was one of five young British artists to exhibit in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale but he retained his artistic links to America, acquiring scrap metal from the estate of David Smith for use in his own sculptures. The choice of Smith's tank ends and other curved steel led to a new sensuality and sophistication in works such as Sun Feast (1969, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Modernism and beyond

Caro's status in Britain as the leading sculptor of the generation after Moore was established by his first major retrospective, held at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1969. He was appointed CBE the same year and opened a new, larger, studio in a former piano factory in Camden Town, London. There he was joined by a new assistant, Patrick Cunningham (who remained with him for the rest of Caro's life, becoming studio director), and a succession of creative young sculptors.

The popularity of beautiful, brightly painted sculptures such as Orangerie (1969, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) disturbed Caro and his critics. In the 1970s he turned to using large sheets of tough, raw brown, heavy-duty, soft-edged roll-end steel, more organic than geometric in form, which he left partly rusted and just varnished or waxed. These sheets he selected first near the Ripamonte factory in Veduggio, Italy (1972), then at Consett, co. Durham (1973), and at the York Steel Company, Toronto (1974). They reveal him to be, in spirit and ambition, closer to the abstract expressionists of the 1950s than to his friends, the ‘Colour Field painters’ of the 1960s such as Noland, Olitski, and Frankenthaler, whose art can seem more hedonistic than heroic. His retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1975), was the first by a British artist since Henry Moore's in 1947. His international standing was confirmed in 1978 by a commission for I. M. Pei's atrium of the new east wing of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in 1979 by honorary membership of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and by honorary doctorates from East Anglia (1968), Cambridge (1985), Yale (1989), and several other universities. In 1985 he established his American studio at Ancram, New York state, which he kept until 1996, and in 1987 he was knighted.

By 1980 artists were working across all media and conceptualism and minimalism became dominant concerns of the postmodern age. Caro's apparent commitment to Greenberg's optical modernist formalism in sculpture, to the primacy of the autonomous man-made art object, and to the role of the artist as a heroic pioneer of the avante-garde dedicated to making masterpieces, seemed to many rather conservative. Caro's commitment to quality seemed to speak only to art's connoisseurs. Recalling Greenberg's early advice, 'if you want to change your art, change your habits' (Barker, Anthony Caro, 84), he looked beyond steel, his favourite material, and began to collaborate with specialists in other fields. He produced sculpture in handmade paper (with Ken Tyler, 1981, and later with Mr Ohé in Japan, 1990), made cardboard and paper collages to cast and rework in bronze, and collaborated with the ceramicists Margie Hugto (in 1975), Jim Walsh (1981), and Paul Chaleff (1991). He established the annual two-week Triangle summer workshops at Pine Plains, New York, with Robert Loder, with thirty artists from the USA, Canada, and the UK, in which he participated until 1991.

Caro's first visit to Greece, in 1985, inspired a series of his largest works to date, based on the classical pediment sculpture of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, such as the 23 metre long After Olympia (1986–7, EPAD [L'Établissement Public pour l'Aménagement de la Région de La Défence], Paris), which was first shown on the rooftop sculpture garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1988. He further explored this interest in architecture and sculpture in a temporary ‘village’ made with Frank Gehry, Sheila Girling, and Jon Isherwood at Pine Plains, New York, in 1988. At the Tate Gallery in 1991 he showed four large architectural sculptures, including the 13 metre tall Tower of Discovery (1991, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo). His interest in interiors and sculpture as environment underpinned the success of his exhibition at the Trajan Markets in Rome the following year.

From 1989 (until the end of his life) Caro showed regularly at Annely Juda Fine Art in London, having shown first in London at Gimpel Fils (1957) then at Kasmin Ltd in London (1965–72), and then with the Knoedler Gallery until 1991. In New York he continued to show regularly at the André Emmerich Gallery (1964–89), at Acquavella Galleries (1980–86), and from 2002 at Mitchell-Innes and Nash. In Toronto he showed at the David Mirvish Gallery (1966–74) and at Gallery One (1982–90); in Chicago at the Richard Gray Gallery (1976–89); in Paris at the Galerie Daniel Templon (2008–10), and elsewhere in Europe. He took a great interest in his choice of photographer, as well as in his choice of gallery. The first known images can be of great value as records of his chosen viewpoints and preferred lighting conditions for each work. The photographers Caro worked with included Nigel Henderson, John Goldblatt, David Buckland, Shigeo Anzai, John Hammond, and, especially, John Riddy.

Self-educated in the history of Western painting, Caro was invited to curate his own selection from the National Gallery's collection for his exhibition there, 'The Artist's Eye' (1977). His appetite for visual ideas from the history of art led to a series of Source Sculptures that were semi-figurative in their origins in compositions by Giotto, Duccio, Mantegna, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, Manet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and other painters. Some featured in his exhibition 'Caro—Sculpture from Painting' at the National Gallery, London, in 1998. Rather than literal translations of paintings into sculptures, they reveal Caro's ability to recognize the possibilities of sculptural structures lying within pictorial compositions, as if in conversation with past masters. He was also a master when it came to recognizing visual ideas with potential in the work of fellow artists.

While committed to making abstract art, Caro found refreshment in life drawing and in modelling in clay from life. He particularly admired the small sculptures made by Degas and Matisse and made a series of 168 bronzes of his own (1983–8), working from a curvaceous professional model, Concetta Branson. Rediscovering his academic training, he also modelled busts of Clement Greenberg (1987–8, priv. coll.) and of Sheila Girling (1988–9, priv. coll.).

Later works

If Caro had a late style it became distinctive in 1992, when he collaborated with the ceramicist Hans Spinner to produce a series of semi-abstract stoneware ‘heads’ at his studio in Grasse, Provence. These became Trojan War (1992–3, various owners), a forty-part mixed-media installation that he developed for exhibition at the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, near his home in Hampstead (later shown in Tokyo, Athens, Thessalonika, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and New York). Rich in expression and in associative values, particularly through the choice of the names of characters from Homer's Iliad for individual titles, this was the first postmodern work by an artist critics had dubbed 'the last Modernist' (D. Cohen, Sculpture, Jan–Feb 1995). Comparisons were made, not with the New York circles of Greenberg but rather with British artists outside the modernist trajectory, such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Frank Auerbach.

Caro's first figurative-narrative sculpture was well received by the press and led to The Last Judgement (1995–9, Kunsthalle Würth, Kunzelsau, Germany), a twenty-five-part work, again in stoneware, steel, and wood, first shown at the forty-eighth Venice Biennale, in the Antichi Granai in 1999. Also in this late style, in which ceramics made with Spinner feature prominently, are the Kenwood Series (2004) and his monumental permanent installation, the Chapel of Light (2006–8, church of St Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg, France). Commissioned by the French cultural ministry, on the theme of the creation, it comprises the church altar, font, two wooden towers, and sculptures around the choir and apse. This late style is not simply about scale and materials but is also characterized by the strength of emotional content as Caro was moved to articulate his concern for humanity. The Last Judgement was made in direct response to the suffering caused by the wars and atrocities committed in Bosnia and Rwanda, as relayed on a daily basis by the press and television news. This epic composition, Dantesque and Wagnerian in spirit, comprises two rows of open wardrobe-like boxes, forming an avenue along which the viewer walks, confronted by successive horrors of hell, towards a forbidding gateway at one end.

Intended to mark the end of the twentieth century as an age of war, The Last Judgement was not Caro's last word on human suffering, for the new millennium opened with the invasion of Iraq by the USA and UK. Caro's over life-size figure, Witness (2003–4, Barford Sculptures), made in stoneware in Spinner's studio and worked up with steel in London, was another ambitious response, clearly indebted to figures in Goya's Third of May, 1808 at Madrid (1814, Prado, Madrid). Witness was launched with sixteen new works at Kenwood in 2004. The Last Judgement inaugurated the new wing of the Museo des Bellas Artes, Bilbao, in 2000 and formed a centrepiece of Caro's retrospective at Tate Britain in 2005. Another figurative-narrative multi-part work in this late style of stoneware, wood, and steel, with a political undertone, was The Barbarians (1999–2002, priv. coll.). However, he continued to work in steel and in his last two years explored a new ingredient, sheets of coloured perspex. His final project, unrealized at his death, was for a giant abstract steel sculpture for Park Avenue, New York, conceived to stretch down the central island for three city blocks. He said it would best be seen from a taxi sweeping by at 30 m.p.h.

Assessment and personality

Three themes seem to run through Caro's prolific output of several thousand sculptures. He once remarked that 'all my work is intimate' (personal knowledge), and went on to explain how, large or small, he intended his sculpture to speak directly to the viewer in an intriguing relationship that developed slowly, one-to-one, unfolding quietly, rather than as monumental single statements to be understood at once from afar. A second theme that set him apart from other sculptors working at this time in painted steel was his commitment to the human form. Despite the linearity of his ‘drawings in space’ his sculptures are never wholly abstract, independent, self-sufficient objects. Rather, they arouse and engage the viewer's own sense of sculptural form. Facing a fellow three-dimensional object, before the eyes get to work on finding the visual poetry, the viewer's body can sense an involuntary response. In circumnavigating a Caro sculpture there can be a direct physical relationship, as a work makes the viewer aware of his own weight, poise, tensions, and gestures, in a way that may not be aroused by abstract paintings hanging flat on a wall. A third characteristic theme was the temporal. As most of Caro's sculptures are composed to be seen from all sides, the viewer's moving eyes can empathize with the process of composition and recognize his sculptures as moments of artistic choice. It is as if, after narrowing down an infinity of options, the process of composition has just been stopped, at a point of balance and harmony, of realization and satisfaction (even so, some parts can just seem to keep on spinning and bouncing, slow and fast).

Caro's largest retrospective in his lifetime was the first solo exhibition at Tokyo's new Museum of Contemporary Art (1995). In 1996 he won, with Norman Foster and Chris Wise, the competition to design the Millennium Footbridge across the Thames, linking Tate Modern to the City of London. He won the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in Tokyo in 1992, and in 2000 was appointed to the Order of Merit by the queen, the first sculptor so honoured since Henry Moore. In 2004 he was elected a senior Royal Academician. His final exhibitions in his lifetime were held at the Yale Center for British Art (2012) and at the Museo Correr during the fifty-fifth Venice Biennale (2013). His sculptures can be found in over 175 public collections.

Tony Caro was a gentleman of great charm and optimism with a contagious love of life. He remained apolitical but in 2003 took part in the demonstration march in London against Britain's bombing of Iraq. Ever interested in the adventures of others, especially young artists, he preferred to ask (especially about his latest work) rather than talk about himself. Devoted to his wife, Sheila, whose independent career as a painter he keenly encouraged and whose judgement of his art he valued uppermost, he was happiest in the studio, not only making art but also planning in fastidious detail the installation of his next exhibitions using scale models of galleries and sculptures. Inexhaustible, he worked to the very end, forever looking forward, for 'tomorrow might just produce a masterpiece' (personal knowledge). He died on 23 October 2013 at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London, of a heart attack, and was survived by his wife and sons.

Sources

  • C. Greenberg, ‘Contemporary sculpture: Anthony Caro’, Arts Yearbook 8: Contemporary Sculpture (1965), 106–9
  • B. McLean, ‘Not even crimble crumble’, Studio International, 180 (Oct 1970), 156–9
  • P. Tuchmann, ‘An interview with Anthony Caro’, Art Forum, 10 (June 1972), 56–8
  • R. Whelan, Anthony Caro (1974)
  • B. Martin, ‘New work: Anthony Caro’, Studio International, 187 (April 1974), 202–3
  • B. Martin, ‘On the occasion of Anthony Caro's retrospective exhibition at MoMA’, Studio International, 189 (May–June 1975), 233–5
  • D. Blume, Anthony Caro: catalogue raisonné, 15 vols. (1981–2010)
  • D. Waldman, Anthony Caro (1982)
  • T. Fenton, Anthony Caro (1986)
  • K. Wilkin, Caro (1991)
  • I. Barker, ed., The last judgement: sculpture by Anthony Caro (1999)
  • A. Dempsey, ed., Sculptors talking: Anthony Caro, Eduardo Chillida (2000)
  • I. Barker, Anthony Caro: quest for the new sculpture (2004)
  • J. Bryant, Anthony Caro: a life in sculpture (2004) [exhibition catalogue, Kenwood]
  • K. Wilkin, Anthony Caro: interior and exterior (2009)
  • P. Moorhouse, Anthony Caro: presence (2009)
  • J. Bryant, Anthony Caro: figurative and narrative sculpture (2009)
  • J. Bryant and M. Droth, Caro close up (2012) [exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art]
  • The Times (25 Oct 2013)
  • Daily Telegraph (25 Oct 2013)
  • The Independent (25 Oct 2013)
  • Financial Times (25 Oct 2013)
  • New York Times (25 Oct 2013)
  • Sunday Telegraph (27 Oct 2013)
  • Economist (9 Nov 2013)
  • A. Renshaw, ed., Caro by Caro (2014)
  • WW (2013)
  • personal knowledge (2017)
  • private information (2017) [Paul Caro, son; P. Cunningham; B. Martin]
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • Barford Sculptures
  • Getty Research Center, Los Angeles
  • Tate archive, London

Film

  • BFI NFTVA, interview and documentary footage
  • Yale U. CBA, interview footage, with J. Bryant, 2011

Sound

  • BL NSA, BBC sound archive, interview recordings
  • BL NSA, documentary and interview recordings
  • BL NSA, National Life Stories Collection, artists' lives, interview with P. Moorhouse, 1994
  • priv. coll., interview recordings

Likenesses

  • N. G. Henderson, photograph, 1955–6, NPG
  • Lord Snowdon, bromide print, 1968, NPG
  • N. Vogel, photograph, 1968, NPG
  • G. Newson, bromide print, 1989, NPG
  • P. Sayer, photograph, 1989, NPG
  • A.-K. Purkiss, bromide fibre print, 1991, NPG
  • N. Sinclair, photograph, 1992, NPG
  • E. McCabe, bromide print, 2004, NPG [see illus.]
  • D. Toff, C-type colour print, 2008, NPG
  • photographs, Barford Sculptures, Caro archive
J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)
(1849–)