Anthony Caro: Inside and out

The Window, by Anthony Caro. PIC: Jonathan Pow
The Window, by Anthony Caro. PIC: Jonathan Pow
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A major retrospective of the work of sculptor Anthony Caro has just opened at two of the region’s most influential art spaces. Yvette Huddleston reports.

The Hepworth Wakefield continues to live up to its reputation as one of the most exciting contemporary art spaces in the country and with this summer’s exhibition, which opened at the weekend, they are raising the bar even higher.

A major retrospective of the work of sculptor Anthony Caro, a hugely important and much-loved figure in 20th century British art, Caro in Yorkshire is a world-class show across two sites – the galleries at the Hepworth and the landscape of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – that spans Caro’s sixty-year career and includes sculptures he was working on before his death in 2013 at the age of 89, on display for the first time in the UK.

It is the first in a series of planned collaborative projects by the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle which brings together the creative expertise of four of the region’s most influential visual arts organisations – The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery. The exhibition takes its cue from Caro’s observation that ‘sculpture hovers between painting and architecture’ with the Sculpture Park showcasing the artist’s relationship with painting and The Hepworth exploring his lifelong interest in architecture.

“We have been planning this for about two years,” says Simon Wallis, director of the Hepworth Wakefield. “Peter Murray [founding director] at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park has had a relationship with Anthony Caro for a quarter of a century and the first Caro show I worked on as a curator was 25 years ago; he has always been an important artist for me. One of the wonderful things about Caro is that you get a sense of the enjoyment he took in making the work. And it works so well with David Chipperfield’s design of this building which gives us light and shade and atmosphere – it is almost as though the works are breathing. There is a magical dialogue between Chippendale’s architecture and Caro’s work.”

Walking around the exhibition at the Hepworth, I was struck by the extraordinary diversity of the work – from delicate wire-like ceiling sculptures, jewellery-sized wearable pieces and carefully balanced table-top sculptures to large-scale very solid, floor-based industrial-looking works and even works, such as Child’s Tower Room, big enough for (child) visitors to walk into. The materials – including wood, steel, bronze, paper, and in his very last works, perspex – are similarly varied. “Once he moved away from the figurative, he started using materials that would have been used in buildings,” says Wallis. “He took those prosaic materials and created these pieces that have a lightness to them and which look at the boundaries between the inside and the outside. He shared so many affinities with the way that architects think about space.”

Above all, the exhibition reveals Caro as an artist who was always experimenting, constantly pushing against the boundaries of his own craft. “His creativity and experimentation never dwindled,” says Wallis. “When I went to the studio to see his last works, they had as much freshness and invention as his early work. That is an inspiration.” The smaller-scale works, in particular, are imbued with an appealing sense of domesticity and even in the large-scale pieces there is a humanity and an intimacy that speaks to the viewer on an emotional as well as a physical level. As a viewing experience, it is both moving and uplifting. “Caro wanted his pieces to be with the viewer, moving in to our space – he said that he didn’t want to be at one remove,” says Wallis. “After all these years of looking at Caro’s work, I never tire of it – he seems to have hit on something that we innately understand somehow.”

Caro in Yorkshire is at The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, until November 1. There is a free bus between the two sites every day during the school holidays (July 18-August 31) and weekends from September 5-November 1.