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Caro in the Garden

Today’s post comes from Claudia Ashworth, Class of 2019, and Art Center Student Docent.

After a brief period of conservation, Anthony Caro’s work Slap (1976) returned to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s sculpture garden last week. It now rests on its original spot in front of an ivy wall immediately visible upon entering the space. Like many of Caro’s later works, Slap is made of intentionally rusted steel that appears dark brown with highlights of orange. Although the artist was careful to coat the sculpture in a specific protective oil in order to prevent the effects of weathering, our curator of photography and 20th century art Mary-Kay Lombino notes that “it is pretty typical of even this kind of oil to wear away.” Over time and with the deterioration of the protective coating, the sculpture had begun to rust severely and turn gray. While in the hands of the art conservation group Jon Isherwood Studios, Slap was stripped of its old oil and additional rust, power washed, and coated in two layers of the special protective oil. The sculpture is now a lovely, glossy brown that with expected weathering will eventually turn into the rusty industrial shade that has become a signature of the artist’s work.

Anthony Caro (English, 1924-2013), Slap, 1976, Steel rusted and varnished, Gift of Elizabeth Cabot Lyman, 1999.10
Anthony Caro (English, 1924-2013), Slap, 1976, Steel rusted and varnished, Gift of Elizabeth Cabot Lyman, 1999.10

However, it was not until late in his career that Anthony Caro both began to use rusted steel and create abstract work that had a definitive volume such as Slap. His very early works were comparatively representational of the human form, making predominantly female figures made of clay and rocks. In these pieces Caro focused attention on depicting how it felt to be inside and bear the weight of a human body. This desire to create an intimate relationship between the viewer and the art sparked Caro’s creative and unprecedented decision to remove his sculptures from their pedestals, and place them directly into the real world. This relocated sculpture from its previous imaginary zone on a plinth to the lived space of the viewer, making the experience of observing sculpture far more direct. Although Caro stopped making work that represented the human form and moved to a more abstract exploration of the potential of sculpture, he continued to place his works on the ground.

Anthony Caro (English 1924-2013), Midday, 1960, Painted steel, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger Fund. Photo from Paul Moorehouse, Interpreting Caro.
Anthony Caro (English 1924-2013), Early One Morning, 1962, Painted steel and aluminum, Tate, London, Presented by the Contemporary Art Society. Photo from Paul Moorehouse, Interpreting Caro.

Beginning in the 1960s, Caro began to make the work that gained him the international attention that continues today. Deviating from figurative sculpture, he began to make works of colored steel that were purely abstract. These began with definitively solid works such as Midday (1960) and slowly transitioned into more delicate pieces such as Early One Morning (1962). In this shift, Caro replaced solid forms with a more open arrangement of shapes, the latter presenting sculpture as a dynamic relationship with space rather than functioning simply as a sedentary object within it. In the 1970s, Caro’s work shifted again as he began to use rusted steel and create works whose volume is depicted more overtly the weight of the material and object.
Slap fits into Caro’s later work—it is abstract but still a sedentary object. It sits next to the Loeb’s other work by Caro, Water Street Stilt (1980), and invites comparisons to the mass, volume, and installation of the other works in our eclectic sculpture garden collection.

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