This interview with Anthony Caro was recorded on 29th November 2011. The sculptures you see in the studio are very much works-in-progress, cannibalised from quarter-size models for an enormous sculpture project for Park Avenue, New York, which was to span three blocks of the central reservation – a kind of huge drive-past linear sculpture. This project is presently on hold; no doubt we will see the results of these reworked pieces some time in the future. In any event, it is yet another instance of Caro’s willingness and ability to involve himself in a very wide range of activities and produce sculpture from all sorts of starting points, some of which are discussed in the film (his “narrative” work in clay, for example, and how that came about). He has, of course, long championed the view that abstract sculpture can be all sorts of things, from paper relief to complex installation, and operate in all manner of degrees of three-dimensionality.
Nevertheless, Caro states in the interview that not everything and anything can be sculpture; that it is to be considered as a particular language; and that it is “not part of the world”. Needless to say, this begs lots more questions than it answers, which I hope can be expanded upon by others in exchanges on this site. Some further points to listen out for are Caro’s assertion that “without ‘character’, abstract art is extremely boring”, though we don’t quite get down to defining what character in abstract sculpture might be. Perhaps more specifically and importantly, Caro declares that he is, first and foremost, an abstract artist, and that the many figurative/narrative projects he has undertaken over the years are to be regarded as “side-trips” and “excursions”. Of abstraction, he makes the bold claim: “I see that as the main way forward for sculpture as high art”.
It is interesting to compare this with William Tucker’s take on sculpture at the moment, as evidenced by the exchange of views by email elsewhere on this site, where Tucker seems to be perhaps travelling in the opposite direction, questioning the ability of abstract sculpture now to deliver “presence” – which may or may not be an equivalent of Caro’s “character”. You will see in the Tucker exchanges some discussion around the sculptures of Edgar Degas, which I know from his teaching days that Caro also admires. As a personal footnote to the Caro interview, I found myself later that day at a loose end in Piccadilly, and dropped in to see the Degas exhibition at the RA again. Catching the exhibition at a quiet moment late in the afternoon, it was one of the smaller sculptures which claimed all my attention this time, “Arabesque over the right leg, left arm in front” (Rewald XXXVIII). It seemed to me that it accomplished something perhaps yet to be matched in anybody’s abstract sculpture to date, namely, an unrelenting visual excitement wherever and however one looked at it, and a completely convincing and coherent (if complex) three-dimensionality, which never seemed to run itself out. In my opinion, that combination is rare, and it distinguishes this sculpture uncompromisingly from many of the other sculptures (by others, but also some by Degas too) that were in the same show, but not up to the same level. It marks it out for me as a sculpture, rather than a figure (see the Tucker exchanges on this subject); i.e. visual, physical and, in a particular sense of the word… abstract. That day, this little object-not-of-this-world seemed a universe away from sculptures on Park Avenue.