NEW YORK—Several months ago, sculptor Anthony Caro publicly disowned a steel sculpture titled Lagoon, 1976–77, that was consigned to auction house Bonhams and included in its March 9 sale of 20th-Century British art. The work, which carried an estimate of £100,000/150,000 failed to sell.
Caro said the owner of the piece, the U.K.-based Peterborough Sculpture Trust, intentionally damaged the monumental piece by welding five legs to the bottom, and had further altered its surface when it removed spray-painted graffiti.
“They never took care of the sculpture,” Jill Capobianco, codirector of Annely Juda Fine Art in London, which represents Caro, told ARTnewsletter. “They never asked how it should be installed or cared for. It was meant to be an indoor sculpture, but they put it outside, sitting in water, where it deteriorated badly and was graffitied.” She noted that Caro wants his sculptures to sit on the ground—“it is part of his philosophy that his works shouldn’t be on pedestals”—but the Trust had five legs welded to the bottom of Lagoon, and the artist was never consulted about it, she said.
Capobianco said the Trust did ask Caro to restore the work in 2008, because it wanted to sell the piece, but the artist said that “the studio would restore it for free, but only if it were exhibited properly and…not put up for sale.” Instead, she said, the trust, which had purchased Lagoon directly from Caro in 1984 for £25,000, hired a restorer to remove the graffiti and then brought it to Bonhams for sale.
She criticized the auction house for “not representing the work properly,” refusing to state in its catalogue that the five legs had been added by the trust and that the still-visible paint was graffiti and not part of the artist’s design. “Acting as the artist’s agent, we complained to Bonhams about this, but they said that the Peterborough Trust recalled things differently, so all the artist could do is publicly disown the sculpture,” she said.
A specialist in the British art department at Bonhams, Chris Dawson, would not speculate on whether Caro’s disowning Lagoon had affected collector interest, but he noted that the auctioneer had “no plans to include it an upcoming sale. My colleagues are negotiating with the consignors about what to do with it next.” The sculpture was returned to the Trust.
In an e-mail to ARTnewsletter, Caro wrote: “Collectors or buyers are not stupid and if they see a sculpture which looks ‘wrong’ they would certainly want to question it.” Caro added: “The lesson from this is that the artist should have legal right to ensure against irresponsible owners or auction houses wrongly attributing mutilated work to the artist.”