On the Met's Roof Garden with Sir Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro, Met Roof Garden
Anthony Caro on the Roof, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the foreground, After Summer, 1968. Painted steel.
Collection of Audrey and David Mirvish, Toronto. In the background, on the left, Midday, 1960. Painted steel. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger Fund, 1974; on the right, Blazon, 1987-90. Steel painted red. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, and Annely Juda Fine Art, London.
In the far background, Central Park South.

On Monday morning, an overcast but warm spring day on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the younger-than springtime British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro (b. 1924) turned around and gestured toward his artworks and the sweeping backdrop of Central Park, proclaiming the scene "a lovely place to show." Indeed, this week's opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Roof Garden, with its heady mixture of park views, social mingling, and world-class art, has now become one of the perennial signs of springtime in the city. With this "mini-retrospective" for the one of the most influential sculptors of his generation, the five abstract steel works fit well in the lofty urban landscape. "I have a great affection for New York," Caro said. "It's a spiritual home for my work."

Caro, who lives and works in London, represents a living, breathing connection to the traditions of both modern and contemporary sculpture. In creating works of art meant to sit on the ground, a move that literally and figuratively knocked sculpture off its pedestal, and in his use of found objects and architectural allusions, he ensured his own place in the history of the medium. He still works every day, "always looking forward," he said, "veering toward craziness but not going too far."

Anthony Caro, Met Roof Garden
Anthony Caro (British, b. 1924). End Up, 2010. Steel rusted, cast iron and jarrah wood.
The artist, courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York


Following his studies at the Royal Academy Schools in London, Caro worked as assistant to Henry Moore (1898-1986), the most prominent sculptor of the era, in the early 1950s. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he traveled to the U.S. where he met painter Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) and sculptor David Smith (1906-1965). He began to steer away from figurative work and toward postwar abstraction. As with the best of abstract art, the most basic gestures and elements of his work function as elegant “notes” – and he himself has made the musical analogy - in the overall composition. In this mini-retrospective, his Midday (1960), the first of his painted works, reveals his ideas from this formative period of creative change. While welded and bolted, as in David Smith's constructivist works, the bright yellow Midday assumes a horizontal orientation balanced with its upright and precarious points.

Anthony Caro, Met Roof Garden
Anthont Caro (British, b. 1924). Midday, 1960. Painted steel. The Museum of Modern Art, New York,
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger Fund, 1974 

Like billowing sails ready for a voyage, the repeating quarter circles of After Summer (see top image) a work from 1968 and the artist's largest work of that era, will likely to serve as the conversation piece for the garden's social hours. Light but grounded, teetering but fastened, sailing but moored, the work demands a stroll around to admire its poetic tensions. The museum's own Odalisque (1984) is baroque in comparison, with a name and elements signifying something weighted, even enslaved. The vertical Blazon (1987-90) expresses architectural elements such as portal and arch, and as such, demands conversation with similar and divergent elements in the New York skyline. Approximate to After Summer, the recent End Up (2010), a box-like work of rusted steel, cast iron and wood, seems a sturdy puzzle, a meditation on depth and infinity, recently washed ashore. Neither large nor lofty, the sculptures lend themselves to humanistic analogies. During his remarks at the preview on Monday, Caro said that he's "very keen about human scale."

Anthony Caro, Met Roof Garden
Anthony Caro at a preview at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 25, 2011.

New York will see more of Caro in the future. He's working on a large horizontal work for Park Avenue, one designed with considerations for vehicular viewing at 30 mph. In his parting remarks, he complemented New Yorkers on what he called our "uncanny grasp of art." He ended his remarks on the Met Roof garden with a firm directive. "New York is special," he said. "So, take care of it."

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Anthony Caro on the Roof
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden
Through October 30, 2011 (weather permitting)

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Monday, April 25, 2011. See many more images of the preview in this slideshow on Flickr WOTBA.

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