I first met André in New York, through Ken Noland – I had opened my gallery in London in 1963 with a Noland show – and it must have been Ken, along with Clem Greenberg, who introduced Tony Caro’s work to André, who was instantly convinced, holding a show for Tony the following year. Initially we worked together on selling the work in the States, but after a while I let André deal directly with Tony – as I felt he would look after him properly, as both an artist and as a friend.
It seemed right that André became such a key figure in the Art Dealers’ Association of America. He cared about our business, how it was conducted and, importantly, how it was perceived on the outside, especially by those in the museum fraternity. He was old-fashioned in that way, an upright and honourable man.
Kasmin, London, April 2014
Strait was acquired by the modernist architect Colin St John Wilson a month after the close of Caro’s important solo show at Kasmin Ltd in 1967, which had featured just two works: Strait's sister-piece, Deep Body Blue (now Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and the magnificent horizontal, planar Prairie (Private Collection). The idea of making unique works from almost identical (found, industrial) elements was central to Caro’s practise at the time: like a poet restricted by his chosen metre, he sought to find subtle variations of beauty, harmony, consonance and dissonance within formal limits – limits defined by the non-art standards of piping and steel sheets.
This variation – which despite the sheer weight and mass of his material has a lightness and vivacity of someone drawing in the air with a finger – is also enacted through colour and Caro’s use of colour, as much as his taking sculpture ‘down from the plinth to the floor’ (to use the artist’s own words), can be seen as his breakthrough achievement of the 1960s. By painting his sculptures in flat, bright commercial colours, he released them from art history and the fascination with patina as the final evidence of the sculptor’s touch. Instead the welded steel elements retain their architectural quality – they remain on the building site, on the street, from whence they’re sourced. Yet Caro uses colour to add a painterly sensibility (even whilst being decidedly non-painterly in its application). His use of colour is not neutral. Deep Body Blue and Strait, cut from the same cloth, are very different works precisely because of the different emotive responses elicited by their colour’s interaction with form.
Significantly, the use of colour in Caro’s work also distanced him from the Minimalists, who relied, as part of their conceptual base, on retaining the industrial surface of materials, such as Cor-Ten steel, to create a sense of dislocation when their objects were then re-presented in an art space. As Michael Fried wrote in the introduction to the early retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1969, Caro’s sculptures are ‘experienced as profoundly physical, but not, or not essentially, as physical objects…’. In contrast to the work of David Smith, which ‘at their most abstract, striding or attenuated, stand and confront us like traditional statues’, Caro’s works ‘neither stand nor lie: they open, or rise, or suspend, or spread, or turn, or bend, or stretch, or extend, or recede…’ (Michael Fried, introduction to Anthony Caro, The Arts Council / Hayward Gallery, London 1969, p.11). Most significant, though, for Fried – the eminent theorist of American abstraction – is that Caro’s work is resolutely, ‘radically’, abstract – ‘All the relationships that count are to be found in the sculptures themselves and nowhere else’ – and yet this abstraction is also very human: ‘they are immediate to one as one’s own body’ (ibid. p.13).
If Caro’s solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1963 announced him as a major talent (with the succeeding 50 years until his death last year confirming him as one of the most important international sculptors of the 20th century), then the show at Kasmin in 1967 was a breakthrough in terms of who was beginning to buy his work. The gallery’s ledger from 1967 reads like a ‘who’s who’ of serious collectors, many of whom were based in America. This connection with the States had been established a few years previously, in 1964, when André Emmerich – working with Kasmin – had put on Caro’s first solo gallery show in New York. The exhibition well-received by collectors and by John Canaday of The New York Times, who wrote: ‘Using sections of I-beams and other structural steel members as his material, Mr Caro dramatizes their geometrical shapes in structures of stark elegance. One feels that this is an art of reduction by distillation, but there is no loss of force in his spare purity’ (quoted in William Rubin, Anthony Caro, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1975, p.183).
With Caro already making headway in the States, Colin Wilson did well to acquire Strait whilst he had the chance. That it should eventually find its way to André Emmerich, however, seems entirely appropriate, as it was in America that Caro’s work became recognised as truly international, worthy of consideration alongside contemporary painters such as Kenneth Noland or Morris Louis and also the work of Caro’s own mentor, David Smith.
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