Architecture was an important source of inspiration for Caro who coined the term ’sculpitecture’ to describe sculpture that can be occupied and experienced from within
Photography by Andy Stagg, Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery featuring Anthony Caro: The Inspiration of Architecture at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery
Words by Joe Lloyd
When the artist Anthony Caro (1924 — 2013) first began creating steel sculptures in the 1960s, the British art establishment reacted with horror. Caro, a former assistant to Henry Moore, had returned from a visit to the US newly inspired. He set about welding planes of steel from abandoned industrial objects, creating artworks that seemed closer to the factory than the artist’s studio.
Caro soon prevailed. His popularity soared after a 1964 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. Through both artwork and teaching, Caro became one of the most influential artists of his era.
Today, the dialogue between art and architecture is well-established. Galleries commission pavilions, architects win the Turner Prize and artists make installations using bricks and mortar. In the 1960s, however, Caro’s exploration of the relationship between the two came as a harsh jolt.
Photography by John Hammond © The Anthony Caro Centre featuring Autumn Rhapsody, 2011, Steel and Perspex, 177.8cm
Caro saw architecture as ‘perhaps the purest abstract visual form’. His sculptures often feature forms and elements recognisable from structure; some even roughly imitate the forms of the built world. Like architecture, they are interested in space and scale, material and method. And when placed within a gallery, they enter a dialogue with the architectural environment that surrounds them.
Anthony Caro: The Inspiration of Architecture, a new exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in Ealing, west London, takes a closer look at Caro’s relationship with architecture. It features 16 works completed between 1983 and 2013, all of which shine a light on the sculptor’s architectural interests.
Some pieces — Child’s Tower Room (1983-4), a Tatlin-esque turret sized so that children can sneak in — live on the boundary between art and architecture. But most of them have a more oblique relationship. The smaller works resemble architectural models, albeit models of architecture that have decayed and begun to slide apart. Some of the larger works feel like miniature pavilions. Forum (1992/94), housed outside the manor, feels almost sepulchral.
Photography by Chris Cunnigham © The Anthony Caro Centre featuring Child’s Tower Room 1983/1984, varnished Japanese oak, 406.4cm
This murmur of the monumental makes perfect sense for Pitzhanger Manor, itself an architectural marvel. It was the private home of John Soane, the pioneering Georgian architect now best known for his extraordinary Holborn museum and a funerary monument design that became the inspiration for the Giles Gilbert Scott red phone box. After years of alterations and additions, in 2019 the Manor & Gallery were reopened with much of Soane’s original fittings restored.
There is a fascinating interplay between Caro and Soane. Soane was a neo-classicist, dredging up the ruins of classical civilisation to create something fit for his era. Seen from a contemporary vantage point, Caro seems to be doing the same with the industrial age, recycling the debris of mechanical production into new forms. Lesser, functional materials are elevated into the realm of aesthetics.
Anthony Caro: The Inspiration of Architecture is on view at Pitzhanger Gallery & Manor, London until 10 September 2023. For more information, visit pitzhanger.org.uk
Get a curated collection of design and architecture news in your inbox by signing up to our ICON Weekly newsletter