Sir Anthony Alfred Caro OM CBE was a British Modernist sculptor. His work is characterised by unique assemblages of found industrial materials. Educated at Charterhouse School, Caro studied engineering at Christ's College, Cambridge and worked in the studio of sculptor Charles Wheeler during his school holidays, before going on to serve in the Royal Navy. In 1946 he enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic to study sculpture, and he studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1947 to 1952.
In the early 1950s, Caro worked as an assistant to Henry Moore. At the time, Caro was making figurative sculptures in clay and plaster, sometimes cast in bronze, such as Man Holding His Foot (1954). Caro's encounters with Moore and, subsequently, American art critic Clement Greenberg and American Modernists like Kenneth Noland and David Smith, inspired him to adopt a more mechanical approach to sculpture in the early 1960s. His abstract work first came to public attention in 1963 with a solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. Twenty Four Hours (1960) and Early One Morning (1962) are two excellent examples of Caro's earliest abstract works in steel.
Twenty Four Hours represents Caro's first abstract sculpture, as well as his first welded sculpture. Constructed entirely from recycled pieces of steel, the 'found' quality of the material is integral to the work. Caro's newly developed technique saw him welding or bolting together pieces of steel, a practice undoubtedly informed by his background in engineering. The finished work was often then painted in a bright monochrome. The works are placed directly on the floor or in a landscape setting with manicured parklands, innovatively eliminating the need for a plinth and enabling a more direct and personal encounter between the work and its viewer. In their day these austere, colourful, abstract works that emphasised line, shape and edge were enormously influential.
Caro's style developed further in the 1980s, when he reintroduced literal and figurative elements into his sculpture. A visit to Greece in 1985 resulted in a series of large-scale narrative works, including the panoramic After Olympia (1986/7) and Déjeuner sur l'herbe II (1989), the latter of which was based on Édouard Manet's infamous 1863 painting. Part of Caro's long-running 'table sculptures' series—initiated much earlier in 1966—Déjeuner sur l'herbe II represents an important aspect of his oeuvre. Modest in scale in comparison with more monumental abstract works, the title of the series references the distinctive reduction in size. Déjeuner sur l'herbe II and the Greek series both allude to the expanded frame of reference that characterises Caro's practice from this period until his death.
In this period, Caro experimented with diverse materials including lead, silver, wood and stoneware. He began making large ceramic sculptures in the mid-1990s. Caro explored his interest in architecture as well, collaborating with Frank Gehry in 1987. He also co-designed the London Millennium Footbridge with architect Norman Foster. In 2008, Caro opened his Chapel of Light at the Church of Saint Jean Baptiste in Bourbourg, France.
Caro died of a heart attack on 23 October 2013. During his lifetime as well as posthumously, his work has been exhibited extensively and internationally, including retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1975); Trajan's Market, Rome (1992); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (1995); Tate Britain, London (2005); and three museums in Pas-de-Calais, France (2008), and can be viewed in public collections across the world. Knighted in 1987, Caro received the Order of Merit in May 2000, and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sculpture in 1997.
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