English artist Anthony Caro left an enormous legacy when he died in 2013 at age eighty-nine. He was celebrated for his sculpture in Britain by the late 1950s, and internationally beginning in the early ’60s. Among his important aesthetic advances were his decisions to remove sculpture from the constraints of the pedestal, to use industrial materials, and to apply color to his abstract constructions.
This exhibition, “Anthony Caro: First Drawings Last Sculptures,” spanned more than six decades and occupied both the Chelsea and Upper East Side branches of the gallery. In addition to eight large-scale sculptures and a number of smaller pieces, the presentation included nineteen of Caro’s earliest drawings. Most of these medium-size ink-on-newsprint drawings are dense with thick lines and bold planes that describe figures or animals. Several, such as Figure and Warrior (both 1955–56), contain passages of brilliant hues that correspond to the colored plexiglass in some of the late sculptures. The drawings were created when Caro worked as an assistant to Henry Moore, and the simplified forms of the figures reflect the older artist’s influence.
In his final years, Caro became fascinated by the properties of glass. The earliest example in the show, Display (2011–12), consists of a glass box resting on a steel pedestal. Resembling a museum vitrine, the box holds a bronze plate, several bronze bars, and two frosted-glass vessels cast from the artist’s clay pots. The satisfyingly rough-hewn contents of the box seem like castoffs from the sculpture studio. Caro ultimately found glass to be too fragile and cumbersome for his larger sculptures. In a 2014 catalogue essay, critic Alastair Sooke explained that Caro came to plexiglass after Michael Fried told the artist about Brazilian Waltercio Caldas’s use of colored planes of the material in a series of abstract steel works he began in the late 1990s.
Some works on view employ plexiglass in ways that evoke passing light phenomena. In the approximately six-and-a-half-foot-tall Autumn Rhapsody (2011–12), bent and folded sheets of steel, painted pale green, form a semicircular enclosure with a small, rectangular entryway. Slabs of chartreuse plexiglass attached to the structure cast golden-yellow highlights on the green metal surface like flickering leaves in early fall. In Blue Moon (2013), a large disk of deep blue plexiglass is angled amid a low-lying structure composed of long steel bars and tubing. A slightly concave canopy of clear plexi covering the piece creates a shimmering light.
Sundown (2013) has the overall shape of an ancient Roman sarcophagus or an antique reliquary. Approximately seven feet long, the work consists of a reconfigured grain hopper set on an industrial tablelike support. The lilting curves of a piece of beige plexiglass spanning the sculpture give it a vaguely anthropomorphic quality, as if Caro wanted to suggest a human figure. Grand, but not grandiose, this elegiac object marks the culmination of a long career.