Unreal Nature

October 22, 2013

Make Room

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

Caro’s art is original because it changes and expands taste in order to make room for itself.

This is from the essay ‘Contemporary Sculpture: Anthony Caro’ (1965) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 4, edited by John O’Brian (1993):

“Breakthrough” is a much-abused word in contemporary art writing, but I don’t hesitate to apply it to the sculpture in steel that Anthony Caro, of London, has been doing since 1960. During the fifties, abstract sculpture seemed to go pretty much where David Smith took it. None of the promises made by other sculptors during that time was really fulfilled; some of them produced good things, but the good things remained isolated, did not add up. Caro is the only sculptor who has definitely emerged from this situation and, in emerging from it, begun to change it. He is the only new sculptor whose sustained quality can bear comparison with Smith’s. With him it has become possible at long last to talk of a generation in sculpture that really comes after Smith’s.

Caro is also the first sculptor to digest Smith’s ideas instead of merely borrowing from them. Precisely by deriving from Smith he has been the better able to establish his own individuality. Unquestionably, he was led to the use of ready-made materials by Smith’s example, which may also have shown him how it was possible to achieve “free” effects with geometrical elements. But Caro’s sculptures invade space in a quite different way — a way that is as different almost from Smith’s as it is from Gonzalez’s — and they are more integrally abstract. Caro is far less interested in contours or profiles than in vectors, lines of force and direction. Rarely does a single shape in Caro’s sculpture give satisfaction in itself; the weight of his art lies preponderantly in what Michael Fried calls its “syntax,” that is, in the relations of its discrete parts. In his catalogue text for the first show of Caro’s post-1959 work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in September and October of 1963, Mr. Fried writes: “Everything in Caro’s art that is worth looking at — except the color — is in its syntax.” This emphasis on syntax is also an emphasis on abstractness, on radical unlikeness, to nature.

No other sculptor has gone as far from the sculptural logic of ordinary ponderable things. Certainly not Calder, whose mobiles so obviously evoke plant forms with their spinal and nodal symmetries. Symmetry enters Caro’s art too, but only at the last moment as it were, surreptitiously and indirectly. Planar and linear shapes of steel (there are no solidly enclosed volumes in Caro’s vocabulary) gather together in what the surprised eye takes at first for mere agglomerations. Seldom is there an enclosing silhouette or internal pattern with readily apparent axes and centers of interest; these, when they emerge, do so tangentially and ex-centrically. That the ground plan will at times echo as well as interlock with the superstructure or elevation (as in the superb Sculpture Two of 1962) only renders the unity of a piece that much harder to grasp at first. Yet just those factors that make for confusion at first make most for unity in the end.

[ … ]

… It ought to be unnecessary to say that Caro’s originality is more than a question of stylistic or formal ingenuity. Were it that it would amount to no more than novelty, and taste would not, in the event, find itself so challenged by it. Caro’s art is original because it changes and expands taste in order to make room for itself. And it is able to do this only because it is the product of a necessity; only because it is compelled by a vision that is unable to make itself known except by changing art.

-Julie

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