Lot 30
  • 30

Sir Anthony Caro, O.M., C.B.E., R.A.

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Gray Apron
  • painted steel
  • 127 by 173 by 84cm.; 50 by 68 by 33in.
  • Executed in 1972.


M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York
Sale, Christie's New York, 4th May 1989, lot 293
André Emmerich Gallery, New York, where acquired by the present owner, October 1992


New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Sculpture Out of Doors, Autumn 1989, illustrated pl.36. 


Dieter Blume, Anthony Caro, Catalogue Raisonné Vol. III, Steel Sculptures 1960-1980, Verlag Galerie Wentzel, Köln, 1981, cat. no.1009, illustrated p.216.

Catalogue Note

Gray Apron was made in the middle of a white-hot period of creativity and innovation for Caro that spanned his breakthrough solo exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery in 1963 and his 1975 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a show which established him as a major international figure at the age of 51. And this sculpture itself bears all the hallmarks of Caro at his best during this period: the lightness and elegance of form that belies the heavy-duty nature of his chosen material; the industrial aesthetic made beautiful through a painter’s eye for colour; and the enduring sense of playfulness that underpins all his work, from his earliest days as a sculptor through to his death.

In 1970, when he made Gray Apron, Caro was also nearing the end of a four-year period during which he had been focussed on his ‘table sculptures’ – smaller variations of the 'floor pieces' of the early 1960s, which shared the same idiom and process, yet in their delicacy and reduction (often being made of just a few of found elements welded together) felt like a form of drawing, of sketching in space, or a kind of writing that preserves the movement of the hand across the page. And it is this calligraphic nature that the Artist carried back into his work of 1970 and 1971, as the economy of the table pieces is scaled-up again for the floor. Gray Apron is defined by the tall upright stroke that rises up and then curves back to the floor almost with a flourish, a vertical that is then intersected by horizontals that curve and switch-back against each other before finding another vertical counter in a triangular slab.

All of Caro’s floor pieces demand to be walked around (and occasionally through) and experienced at all four points of the compass. As the eminent art historian Michael Fried noted in 1969 unlike the work of American sculptor David Smith (to whom Caro is often compared), whose works ‘even at their most abstract, striding or attenuated, stand and confront us like traditional statues,' Caro’s sculptures ‘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). By changing their position, the viewer not only animates the sculpture, changing the relationships between the elements that float and bind, divide and coalesce according to your viewpoint, but also brings into play the sculpture’s colour that whilst uniform and unarticulated in its application, takes on a painterly dynamism as it flickers and darts in and out of shadow.

One of Caro’s major innovations in the early 1960s was to introduce colour as a key element in abstract sculpture. On the one hand, by spray-painting his sculptures evenly, in flat commercial paints, he could push the work further from art history, with its fascination with patina as final evidence of the artist’s hand, and into the modern industrial world (and this is why Caro was so insistent that his works be repainted as soon as the original finish began to fade or was cracked and broken by weathering). On the other, it allowed him to use colour – in symbiosis with the sculptural form – as an emotive force, placing his work at a remove from Minimalism’s straight-up appropriation of industrial material. Caro’s use of colour, despite its neutral application, is in fact very painterly in its intention: a sculpture made from similar base elements has a radically different physical presence – an altogether different emotive power – when painted a deep red, bottle green or bright blue. The colour of Gray Apron is therefore key to our sense of it. The Americanised spelling of ‘grey’ is a perhaps a deliberate subterfuge on Caro’s part (as well as a nod to his highly successful time teaching at Bennington College, Vermont), as it is in fact the most ‘Modern British’ of greys (shot through with green), one that can be found in the artist-painted frames of Ben Nicholson or the 1930s abstracts of John Piper.