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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



Anthony Caro. Red Splash, 1966. Steel, painted. 45 1/2" x 69" x 41". Collection Mr. and Mrs. David Mirvish, .Toronto. Photograph (c) Barford Sculptures, photographer John Riddy.
So—Sir Anthony Caro is gone. At least it was quick and painless (we should all be so lucky). And he was 89: it was the end of a long, rich and full life. I first met him in late 1969, about three months after I'd left Time. I'd decided to leave New York, go to London, and write a novel about my experiences on the weekly newsmagazine (which would never see the light of day as fiction, but eventually became the basis of the first part of A Memoir of Creativity).

Before I left New York, I asked all my friends there for introductions to their friends in London, and among my friends was Clement Greenberg. He obliged with four introductions: among them was Tony Caro. What a dummy I was! I didn't know anything about Caro, although he was already known to many others as the best and most exciting younger sculptor in the U.K., and (some said) in the U.S. as well.

Even Time had dealt with him, in a March 1965 article that seems to have been written by Jon Borgzinner, my predecessor in the Art section, though I only learned about it when I was researching my memoir, many years later.

Anyway: I got in touch with Caro and he invited me to his studio in Camden Town, and lunch afterwards. If he was appalled by my ignorance, he didn't say so. Instead, he said, "Isn't Clem the most lovable person you ever met?" That told me we should be friends, though I also rather speedily got the impression that Caro was Really Somebody, so I didn't impose upon the friendship any more than I thought my own reputation justified, and invited him and his wife Sheila down to my basement pad in West Kensington only on rare & stately occasions.

Fortunately, my other American friends had provided me with many excellent introductions to less eminent Londoners, and I spent most of my spare time socializing with them. I can remember, however, being invited up to the Caro home in Hampstead, for drinks on one occasion when Bill Rubin and some big-name American artist (Stella? Noland? Olitski?) were passing though.

I also remember an intimate dinner in Hampstead for four: Sheila, Tony, me and John Hoyland (evidently between marriages at that point). I'd seen a print by Hoyland in the house of one of my less eminent London introductees, and I'd liked it, but I had no idea that he was pretty eminent, too. Hoyland didn't improve his image by getting drunk and passing out. In my own somewhat addled state, I attributed his behavior to my overwhelming beauty and apparent imperviousness, though I've since heard he'd had problems with liquor in other situations as well.

After I came home from London, I didn't have any contact with Tony until after I'd completed my doctorate (though I'd seen his retrospective at MoMA in 1975, and learned how to respect what an admirable artist he was). Then in 1983, I published three articles in Arts Magazine out of my dissertation on "art criticism & art history in New York: the 1940s vs. the 1980s."

I'd published a number of articles since leaving Time -- in Smithsonian, ARTnews and even Arts. For that matter, I'd published a good deal of writing in Time, but it was only with the 1940s vs. the 1980s that Greenberg's wider circle of friends suddenly started noticing who I was. I met Tony at an opening at André Emmerich's along about this time, and he gave me a big smile, kissed me on the cheek, and announced "I hear you've begun to write!"

Once his attention was drawn to me, however, he continued to be supportive. It has always been my policy to send complimentary copies of issues of FMD to artists whose work I've reviewed favorably, and sometimes to artists whose work I've criticized (if I respect their work on the whole, and feel they might be grownup enough to try and learn from my criticism, instead of merely getting angry at it). That being the case, I've sent a number of issues to Tony, and, when looking over my files recently, find a number of supportive letters from him on occasion.

He even subscribed to the print edition for a while, until he discovered that he could get it faster (and cheaper) online,but he continued to send me kind little notes about shows he was going to have (most of them in Europe, where I couldn't get to the them, though I was happy to see him looking fit and cheerful at the media preview of his show in 2011 on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

He left us so much. I mean not only so many thousands of sculptures, extra-large, large, medium-sized and small—in steel, bronze, ceramic and so forth, the large majority heart-stoppingly beautiful, with genius stamped in them, the small minority with at least the hallmarks of gifted experiment. I didn’t like all the experiments of the later years, and sometimes said so in my column, but he didn’t hold it against me,.

I was happy to see him go out on a high note (the last and exceedingly fine show of his that I saw, last season, of predominantly small works was at the Yale Center for British Art, though I know he also had shows over this past summer, at Gagosian in London and the Museo Correr in Venice). One of the sculptures featured in the publicity accompanying the Venice show was "Red Splash" (1966), still looking as fresh and brash as its shiny red paint. Quality doesn't age.

But Tony was a person as well as an artist, and what he also left us with is the impact of his humanity.

He was not content with carrying constructivist sculpture on beyond David Smith, with dreaming up a new and vigorously horizontal art form. Not content with one that not only took sculpture off its pedestal, but one that more specifically suggested landscape as opposed to the vertical and inescapably figural tradition. In addition, he wanted to carry the modernist tradition on beyond his own lifetime, and not only sculpture but painting, too.

To this end, he continued to teach at Saint Martin’s and elsewhere, well beyond the moment where his exhibition successes rendered teaching financially unnecessary. His reward was that he nurtured a whole second—or even third--- generation of modernist sculptors. Among those who studied at Saint Martin’s and are still working in the modernist tradition are Peter Hide in Canada, Tim Scott and Charles Hewlings in the U.K., and David Evison in Germany.

Caro also helped to shape the visions of younger North American sculptors who either studied with him or worked with him in his studio(s) on this side of the Atlantic: James Wolfe, Willard Boepple and André Fauteux.

Most importantly, he founded the Triangle Artists’ Workshop in Pine Plains, NY, in 1982, and remained active in it through its Barcelona season in 1987. Among younger sculptors who benefited from the unique experience of topnotch criticism and interacting with fellow modernists from many countries are Jacqueth Hutchinson, Jilaine Jones, and Ken Macklin, to say nothing of painters too numerous to mention.

It's true that I have heard stories about how Tony appropriated ideas from younger artists, or at least they believed he did. However, for the most part I believe that he was kind to and supportive of younger artists, and that almost all of them share my sorrow at his passing.
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