sun 16/06/2024

Caro at Chatsworth, Chatsworth House | reviews, news & interviews

Caro at Chatsworth, Chatsworth House

Caro at Chatsworth, Chatsworth House

Brilliantly choreographed and vividly memorable, Caro's monumental sculptures shine in an outdoor setting

'Goodwood Steps', 1996: 'massive but also open and airy'

The first and most unusual aspect of Caro at Chatsworth is that it is there: 15 outstanding sculptures by Sir Anthony Caro, placed in an irregular pattern around the formal 950ft early-18th-century Canal Pond, situated facing the southern vista of the great Baroque house. For these sculptures are tough, the antithesis of any sentimental attachment to a rural Arcadia, almost relentlessly urban and even architectural. Caro once used the term "archisculpture" for his ambitious work.

Caro objects to being called a living national treasure or any such sobriquet, although at the age of 88 it comes with the territory: he is a relentless worker, an untiring explorer of forms and materials, and a remarkable innovator. And he is against gush, in person and in his art. His rampant originality is more than clear in this selection of work from the 1960s to now, in which his fascination with varied finishes, forms and moods – from playful to grand, from colourful to sombre – is given full rein. Every work rises from the ground: Caro dispensed long ago with the plinth, once so inescapably paired with sculptural work. And Caro uses steel - painted, stainless, varnished, rusted – its industrial origins often visible.    

Caro’s sculptures are grand, but also approachable, huge but also paradoxically human in scale

This is the first major exhibition of contemporary work devoted to a single artist that Chatsworth has held, although it is a fascinating policy of the Trust to mix in contemporary decorative and fine arts in the historic settings of the “Palace of the Peaks”: we find two Edmund de Waal installations in the fireplaces down one corridor, and a Caro table top in the Victorian sculpture gallery. And just before the vast shop and exit from the house itself there is a small three-room gallery, currently occupied by a sampling of the 20th-century British art holdings of the Frank Cohen collection. In the past few years there have been outdoor sculpture anthologies organised by Sotheby’s: the 12th Duke of Devonshire is a director. To show contemporary work in such an improbable setting makes it both refreshing and surprisingly approachable, reminding us that the historic was once the contemporary. 

Sculpture Seven, 1961Chatsworth has 800,000 visitors during its season, so there is a big and possibly unsuspecting audience for this coherent essay on just what makes Caro Caro. The six massive ziggurats of Goodwood Steps in varnished steel (1996) stands as a series of linked gateways, and signifiers, at the foot of the Canal Pond. Yet Goodwood Steps is also airy and open. Caro’s sculptures are grand, but also almost alarmingly approachable, huge but also paradoxically human in scale. 

Capital, 1960Caro’s very early work was figurative - he was devoted to drawing and the life class - and wonderfully sensual before he plunged half a century ago so whole-heartedly into abstraction. His sculptures are not totemic, anthropomorphic, or reminiscent of the human form, but they are lively and curiously animated, brilliantly choreographed and vividly memorable. Capital, 1960 (pictured right), steel painted orange, consists of several upright slabs of metal standing on a group of supports with several extensions, almost like limbs, as though the whole thing were about to take off and dance down the lawn. Nearby is Sculpture Seven, 1961 (pictured above), irregularly stacked and layered beams, painted green, blue and brown, a series of steps at various angles leading nowhere except into the visitor’s imagination. Double Tent, 1987-1993, is a series of linked geometric forms at all sorts of angles, a kind of vocabulary of non-objective art, scallops, circles, rods, discs, slabs, all in shining silvery stainless steel, aglow in the natural light.

Egyptian, 1999-2001

Colour vanishes, replaced by the look of naturally rusted steel, weathered with time, in several works, particularly in a series called Flats: the horizontal is ever more emphasised, all the slabs bolted and riveted together and perching on various steps and platforms which are part of the composition. Forum from the 1990s flexes the geometric aesthetic, whilst Egyptian 1999-2001 (pictured above), is a huge enclosed structure like a house we cannot enter yet conveying not a sense of the impregnable but a feeling of security and confidence.

Caro emerges as the master player still making new moves in the art game

The totality is surprising: these sculptures all together are joyful and witty, and stretch out as though parading their muscles with pleasure: cats or even lions in the sun. Being outdoors, rather than the unvarying illumination of the white cubes of rooms in galleries, has brought the benefit of changing light, emphasising variations in texture, colour, surface, offering us sun and shadow. We literally see them anew. These huge pieces glint and gleam and generally disport themselves. Caro emerges as the master player still making new moves in the art game. 

Being outdoors has brought the benefit of changing light, emphasising variations in texture, colour, surface


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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