By Amanda May
The Yale Center for British Art – specifically, a photograph that showcased Louis Kahn’s beautiful, spare architecture – was featured on the cover of The Arts Paper last month. As it turns out, that architecture issue was well-timed, drawing my attention to the YCBA just in time for a press preview for Caro: Close Up. Sculptor Sir Anthony Caro himself has even said that YCBA is “one of the most beautiful galleries in the world.”
With the current Caro exhibition, the YCBA is premiering the first major show to celebrate the famed English sculptor in U.S. in nearly 40 years, highlighting rarely seen drawings and small-scale sculptures. The exhibition itself is made up of over 60 works spanning the artist’s career, some only a few months old.
The show is structured roughly chronologically, beginning with drawings Caro made when he was a student at the Royal Academy Schools in London. It was at that time that he was working as an assistant to Henry Moore, then Britain’s most-successful sculptor. From Caro’s early drawings, you can see that he began with loose, soft forms, which Moore later corrected, helping them transform, adding gravity and structure.
These formative years led to figurative sculptures, which, while drawing from the human form, are conveyed with utmost weight and already show hints of Caro breaking out of the confines of the norm. In one example, Man Holding His Foot, the sculpture has a foot literally jutting off the podium.
Caro goes on to work with geometric “table pieces” in metal. In this exhibit, there are a large number of more “domestic”-sized pieces that balance and overflow the plinths, as was foreshadowed.
Caro would make these relatively small pieces at home at night. He would then bring the pieces to his official studio, an old piano factory in Camden Town, where he’d assemble them. The private dimension and size of Caro’s domestically made works have a real playful DIY quality, but they manage also to be beautiful.
One standout is The Deluge, which evokes water currents, turmoil, energy, and arabesques. For Julian Bryant, who was one of the exhibition organizers, “everything uncoils at once, not unlike the big bang. It balances overall as a composition, but teases you.”
This matte, mustard-yellow sculpture is usually seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but here in New Haven, it’s placed in front of a window. The daylight changes the calligraphic piece, appropriately, not unlike the ambiance of a domestic home.
A quirk in the exhibition is that Caro has used pieces from an architectural kit from the YCBA gift shop in one of his sculptures. Hint: look closely at Scrawl Zone for tiny bronze columns.
The paper works are almost like origami with heavy ragpaper. They are worlds removed from the large steel sculpture in the lobby. These works are intimate, delicate, subtle, and quiet. Notable softness can be found in the pastel colors that make up the paper work from the Obama series (named for the town in Japan, not the president of the United States). They are convex, concave, layered, sculpted, and fluid.
According to Caro’s son, Paul, who was present at the preview with his wife and two children, “a lot of his work throughout his career has elegance and clarity.”
He went on to say that the dichotomy in his father’s career has been between weight and power and elegance and clarity.
“In the end he has accomplished heavy and elegant work, a very unusual combination,” he said.
Concurrent with Caro: Close Up, the YCBA has curated modern and contemporary works from its permanent collection by artists whose practices both influenced and dramatically diverged from those of Sir Anthony Caro and his peers, including Damien Hirst and Francis Bacon, whose constrained figures display an important visual resonance with Caro’s work.
The show contrasts with his rooftop show (Anthony Caro on the Roof) at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, which showcased the artist’s bigger, more muscular pieces. According to Caro, in a video recorded for the YCBA exhibition, the difference in shows is not preferential and is expressed best in metaphor: like the difference between “a piano sonata and a symphony.”
Caro: Up Close is on view through December 30, 2012.
Exhibition tours will be offered on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. on December 6, December 20, and December 30.
Amanda May is the Arts Council’s communications manager. This is her opinion.