YCBA takes intimate approach to sculpture

British sculptor Anthony Caro is known for his abstract pieces.
British sculptor Anthony Caro is known for his abstract pieces. Photo by Yale Center For British Art.

Tomorrow, the Yale Center for British Art will open its latest exhibition — “Caro: Close Up” — a roughly chronological display of the work of contemporary British artist Anthony Caro.

Caro’s style has evolved throughout his artistic career, especially after his visit to the United States in 1959, said Martina Droth, the exhibit’s organizing curator and the head of research at the British Art Center. Although the artist considered America an important place to display his newly abstract art, Caro’s work has not been featured in the United States since a 1975 exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the artist’s son Paul Caro said.

The British Art Center organized “Caro: Close Up” to share his personal artwork as much as his more well-known sculptures. Accordingly, many of the featured pieces were borrowed from Caro’s personal and family collections.

“It’s not a retrospective as much as it is an intimate look at Caro’s art,” British Art Center Director Amy Meyers GRD ’85 said.

The project began when curator Julius Bryant of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who is collaborating with the British Art Center on the show, visited the center. He was impressed with the space and the resonance Louis Kahn’s architectural style could have with Caro’s work, Meyers said. Bryant saw a chance to feature Caro’s pieces in a clear and intimate setting. To keep this clean look, there are no labels assigned to any pieces.

“Caro: Close Up” also aims to place the British sculptor’s work in the context of his American and British influences, incorporating paintings by other artists who may have inspired Caro, Droth explained.

“Caro looked to paintings for inspiration, not just to other sculptures,” Droth said. “We wanted to embed Caro’s work in what was going on in London at that time.”

Droth said she is particularly excited about the new collection because while the gallery features historical artists frequently, it exposes the community to modern artists less often. Showcasing Caro’s work has given the British Art Center the opportunity to celebrate “the most eminent sculptor of today,” she added. Now, she said she hopes to institute a program that brings the work of living artists to the center.

The exhibit consists of about 60 pieces, beginning with an outdoor display of “Ocean,” a steel sculpture on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery. This piece acts as a “signpost,” orienting people with something familiar by Caro before drawing them into the show’s unique displays.

Inside, the exhibit begins with drawings Caro completed while studying under Henry Moore at the Royal Academy in London. Although often excluded from displays of the British sculptor’s repertoire, Bryant said drawings were “fundamental to Caro’s seemingly abstract work,” since it is through drawing that Caro learned about space, form and gravity’s impact on the portrayal of human figures.

“These drawings are not just documentary works of his early career, but are works in their own right,” Droth said.

Next to these drawings are some of Caro’s early pieces, mostly large sculptures. “Man Holding His Foot” foreshadows Caro’s later divergence from conventional sculpting techniques, Droth said, adding that “transition” pieces in the collection emphasize Caro’s shifting style.

Displays of table structures, smaller pieces that Caro could work in his one-car garage, emphasize the exhibit’s focus on Caro’s more personal work, Bryant explained.

“The table structures are a window into Caro’s private world, and the entire exhibit focuses on exploring this private dimension,” he said.

In addition to working on a smaller-scale, Caro experimented with different materials as he progressed through his career. Another section displays his sculptures in bronze, a more flexible artistic metal. Bryant said that Caro chose to work in bronze because its plasticity would better allow him to experiment.

Caro’s paper structures, on view in the final room, stand in contrast to his metal works. According to Paul Caro, however, the dichotomy between elegance and power unites pieces of different materials.

Despite the varying styles Caro adopted throughout his career, some aspects of his art remained constant.

“He loved art, and for him, it was less about angst and more about beauty,” Bryant said.

While Caro himself is in his late 80s and is unable to travel to Yale for the opening, a video interview with him will be shown at Bryant’s opening lecture at 5:30 today.

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