Caro's steel sculptures showcase his flexibility


British abstract artist continually diversified materials, approach

October 26, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Anthony Caro, whose abstract steel sculptures are on view this month and next at C. Grimaldis Gallery, is one of the foremost British sculptors of his generation, an artist who has continually reinvented his approach to his materials and the plastic values they embody.

The Grimaldis show offers an overview of Caro's work mostly since the mid-1970s, when he began to diversify his approach and materials to include cast bronze, clay, brass, wood and stainless steel.

Caro has been creating sculpture since the 1940s, and by the early 1950s he had already made a radical break from the academic figurative tradition in which he had been trained as a student at Cambridge and the Royal Academy Schools.

In his search for a modernist style, he first turned to the great British abstract sculptor Henry Moore, whom he adopted as a mentor. "Henry gave English sculptors who followed him the confidence to feel they could be as good as the best, could take themselves seriously and be taken seriously," he later recalled.

Under Moore's tutelage, Caro learned to assimilate the avant-garde influence of Picasso, Miro and Brancusi, among others, and it was during this period that Caro also began to incorporate found objects into his work, a practice he would continue through his later career.

The earliest work in the Grimaldis show, titled Strait, dates from 1967. It exemplifies Caro's search for an abstract sculptural language that resulted, in part, from his encounters with American art critic Clement Greenberg and abstract-expressionist painter Kenneth Noland, both of whom he met in the late 1950s.

The work consists of two 5-foot-tall vertical members connected by whimsical (and rather frail-looking) horizontals that lie flat on the floor or curve upward from the verticals' base like three-dimensional line drawings. The entire piece is spray-painted a bright, fire-engine red.

By the early 1970s, Caro had grown dissatisfied with simple painted steel, which had become a widely accepted sculptural practice, and turned his attention to bronze, a material that, paradoxically, he had earlier rejected as being too traditional.

He also continued to work in steel, but rather than paint the material he now emphasized its natural patina by allowing it to rust and then varnishing the surfaces of his pieces.

Many of the works from this later period include bronze casts of found objects - a workman's glove, a pair of pliers, the tip and part of the handle of a crowbar - which Caro incorporated into the welded steel structure of his pieces.

One of the show's highlights is a steel-and-wood painted sculpture titled Arena Pieces `Conclusion,' part of a series of mixed-media constructions that Caro executed in the late 1990s and is being exhibited here for the first time anywhere.

In January, London's Tate Britain gallery will present a major retrospective of Caro's work over the last 50 years to commemorate the artist's 80th birthday.

Until then, the Grimaldis exhibition is a challenging and conceptually rich exploration of the unfolding of Caro's ideas that will also serve as an excellent introduction to this important British artist.

The show runs through Nov. 27. Grimaldis is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 410-539-1080.

Mixed media

The mixed-media constructions of local artist James von Minor, on view at Galerie Francoise, occupy a space that is midway between painting and sculpture.

Thirty-three of the featured pieces are painted-wood, modular constructions of the same size, approximately 13 inches square. The 34th is a mural-scale work, Eight Themes, which consists of 48 squares arranged in a grid six rows high and eight across.

In each of the individual modules, von Minor has painted or drawn abstract designs based on simple, geometric forms such as circles, rectangles and squares. The colors he uses recall the weathered reds, greens and burnt siennas of Pennsylvania Dutch farm buildings.

"My paintings are intended to read as objects somewhere between sculpture and painting, with the frame incorporated into the composition, and using the dimensions of the raw materials as factors of the overall whole," von Minor writes. And he adds: "This approach gives the piece an appearance of functioning like that of a blueprint, or diagram, or even some type of tool, but which is ultimately artificial."

The modular pieces are part of a larger body of the artist's work that focuses on sculpture and installation and have their origins in von Minor's earlier experience with printmaking.

One leaves this show with the overall impression that they are serene and subtle variations on a theme whose possibilities seem infinite in the hands of this very capable artist.

The show runs through Nov. 6. The gallery is at 2360 W. Joppa Road in Lutherville. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 410-337-2787.

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