New York

Anthony Caro

Aquavella Gallery, Andre Emmerich Gallery

At first, the deep satellite dishes of Anthony Caro’s largest new works seem to beckon the viewer. For example, Soldier’s Tale, 1983, puts down steps from the rim of the concavity, an alien ship expecting company. Whereas this frontal hollow is framed with plates and girders, which emphasize its centered depth and create a threshold for it, the chilly rear of the construction does not so much repulse as exclude. What had seemed a shell of safe retreat is from the back exposed as a propped-up concatenation of incompletion—halved ellipses, makeshift shims, functionally redundant sheets and rolls. If the front attracts, the back is a boneyard for the magnetized odds and ends that have been drawn in: dead flies.

Overeagerness could group Caro’s recent sculptures into correlatives of a process of allurement, struggle, and collapse. When the bowls of the large steel pieces like Soldier’s Tale are frontally obstructed, as in Double Variation, 1983–84, and Bitter Sky, 1983, it is often by an inadequate-looking structural support whose appearance of imminent collapse. makes it resemble the stick in a rabbit trap; the trap closes when the stick is pulled away. Smaller lead-and-wood works figure a second phase—the flailing in the web, the attempt to break out. Reflecting the character of lead, the metal appears softer here, melting. On the Double, 1981, distinctly resembles a taffy pull, or some malleable entity caught in a machine, gumming up the works. Items are wrapped, enfolded, straining. While the large steel constructions are tangential arrangements, their sliced-off pins and tubes aplay on the missing connections that define collage, these pieces are overwhelmingly interactive, wood and lead woven together. Explanation: innocence, outside the system, never perceives how things work; only when it has graduated to victim, when it enters the system, does everything click into place, and, in a perversion of E.M. Forster’s advice, it can “only connect,” can see nothing but plot and machination.

This is overdoing it, but think of my gothic analogy as a hyperbolized version of the somatic properties of the works. Or perhaps it would be less sensational to speak of an aural rather than a biological trapping. In the depths of those bowls are echoes of Arthur Dove’s foghorns. Unlike Dove’s circles these seem not an emission but a sucking in—the dish receiving audio transmissions rather than the satellite sending them. It’s a third group of brass and bronze pieces that makes a noise, a sort of inhaled scream, jazz’s inharmonious wail; in Rapture and Love Song, both 1982–83, flats and sharps, notes, bars, cymbal, horns, and the music stand itself fuse in a dissonant intake of breath, shrink into a collapsing heap, into freeze-dried, vacuum-packed Stuart Davises. All right, that’s not strictly true either.

Actually, Caro’s new work leaves one with little to say that is sanctioned by the objects themselves. Contrary to much opinion, this is not necessarily a mark of their excellence and self-sufficiency. As Arthur Danto says, one useful definition of artwork is that which may be explicated; the lessening of an artifact’s capacity for interpretation is a weakening of its identity as art. We are now accustomed to work that operates on as many levels of meaning as possible, but Caro offers mainly the formal level, and barely stretches up (or down) for a metaphoric one. Fair enough. One isn’t making a ladder; it’s unnecessary to put in all the rungs of the psychosocial. But what Caro’s work does say on those levels on which it operates is either familiar or vague. The shouts of “period material” given off by the steel of the largest pieces utterly drown out their whisper of design adjustments. The lead-and-wood works attempt fiction, but nonspecificalIy. And so many works are so similar. Left to one’s own devices, one daydreams.

Jeanne Silverthorne