Anthony Caro

Kenwood House

Anthony Caro’s recent small-scale works are sculptural aphorisms. Open and closed, balanced and falling, abstract and recognizable, part and whole interpenetrate rhythmically, and while some pieces permit immediate visual access, others conceal their complex organization, demanding close attention. Play of opposites is evident, too, in their making. Often they resemble improvisations urged suddenly into permanence by bronze casting. Domestic utensils, trays, drapery, and pipes defy gravity. Accident turns into high drama, as when jugglers let plates drop nearly to the floor before catching them.

Casting may seem unnecessarily heavy-handed, depriving constructions of color, variety, or sheer seediness. Though Caro’s technique of arty retrieval could be regarded as a belated response to Robert Rauschenberg, a more plausible argument might be that, in shifting his terms from a space “between art and life” to a realm reminiscent of René Magritte or Giorgio Morandi, Caro is becoming a latter-day metaphysical sculptor, increasingly preoccupied with variations on the Many and the One. As a rule these are rehearsed in accordance with his Cubist tenets. Standing works tend to connect entire units paratactically, if illogically. The very act of showing them off as if once and for all to demonstrate their emptiness distracts attention from their elementary arrangement. Conversely, works on bases slice and recombine parts of units, attempting metaphors. While the vertical structures seem innocent of structural pretension, the horizontal, based ones reveal an almost machinelike economy. Though movement is not implied in any traditional sense, they give the impression that by rotation (Hot Case), retraction (Half Dollar), or a miracle of folding (Centre Back) they will pack away for easy carrying, like antiquated portmanteaus. This artificiality is deliberate; at least half of the sculptures must be seen head-on. Frontality verges on theatricality in two of the best works—Second Half (its title a possible pun on the strong resemblance to a maquette for a stage design) and Black Raspberry Marble, by far the simplest and most surreal of all.

Artifice is flaunted, too, in constant witticisms about weight. The “bases” for Half Dollar, semicircular bell shapes emerging from what looks like a cardboard box, are two half-hidden papier-mâché egg boxes so slight that, in real life, they would be squashed to a pulp. But so many reversals have taken place since they were part of the real world that any joke is lost without trace. The trickier his structures, the less control Caro seems to have over his tone of voice. That air of the “master at play,” condescending to feign intimacy with household paraphernalia, is irksome after a while. And casting egg boxes in bronze is weird however you look at it.

Caro is at a dangerous age. Unfashionable, with no perceptible relation to a British avant-garde, he can choose to put on carpet slippers and be Caroesque for the rest of his life. Or he could take a few chances. Of course, there is a critical problem. What is the place of formalism in a post-modern inclusive world view? Pluralists have dogmas, too, we conclude. There is also a national problem. Few of Caro’s large works are ever seen in London. Sadly, despite all this, the indications are that the best sculptor in Britain is padding around the house in his carpet slippers like some dotty pensioner. His latest pieces are accomplished, interesting even, but a little eccentric and overwhelmingly safe, the playthings of a Grand Old Man. Dear Mr. Caro, put your shoes on. Sell your foundry. Go out there and be great. Grow old disgracefully. What have you got to lose? Signed: An Admirer.

Stuart Morgan