Caro in Yorkshire and Henry Moore: Back to a Land at YSP

Caro Month of May 2

Major exhibits currently showing at Yorkshire Sculpture Park are providing new perspectives on the work of two of Britain’s eminent twentieth-century sculptors. Caro in Yorkshire, a two-site exhibition spread between Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Hepworth Wakefield, looks back over sixty years of Anthony Caro’s career, viewing his creative process – from his early small bronze figures to the revolutionary painted steel and aluminium constructs of the 1960s, which removed sculpture from its traditional plinth and placed Caro’s name at the forefront of modern art – within the contexts of painting and architecture. An initiative of Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, more than 100 of Caro’s works are being displayed indoors and outdoors across the two sites.

Meanwhile Henry Moore: Back to a Land explores the ceaseless interaction between Henry Moore’s art and the earth, developing his interest in specific locales, as well as geological features. Moore spoke of the ‘element of the unknown that fascinates me in caves and the holes in the sides of hills – you don’t know what is there until you look and explore into them’. Alongside sculptures both inside and out, Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Underground Gallery has been reconfigured to display a broad selection of Moore’s drawings and sketches. In total 120 pieces are on show, in collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation.

After opening last month, Caro in Yorkshire will continue at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Hepworth Wakefield until 1 November. Meanwhile Henry Moore: Back to a Land has just a few weeks left to run, closing after six months on 6 September.

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The story of Anthony Caro’s career is usually portrayed with a radical break: the promising early figurative works of the 1950s, typically in bronze, cast aside and his art revolutionised upon his first visit to the United States in 1959. There Caro embraced the expressionist sculpture of David Smith and the criticism of Clement Greenberg, while also developing fruitful friendships with the abstract painters Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Eschewing figuration, Twenty Four Hours (1960) was Caro’s first abstract sculpture, and the first which he welded from pieces of steel. Part of the Tate collection, the work is currently on loan at Hepworth Wakefield. Sculpture Seven (1961) – along with Midday (1960), which is in the collection of MoMA, and was last exhibited as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anthony Caro on the Roof back in 2011  – was one of Caro’s first polychrome sculptures, its welded steel painted in store-bought, unmixed green paint.

Sculpture Seven (1961) by Anthony Caro, Steel painted green, blue & brown , 178 x 537 x 105.5 cm

Caro’s wife, the modernist painter Sheila Girling, was both a constant companion and another crucial influence upon his work. Early One Morning (1962) incorporated aluminium alongside steel, and was one of Caro’s largest sculptures to date, extending over 6 metres. Its vivid red was an improvement suggested by Sheila, as Caro recalled:

‘I remember finishing Early One Morning, which had become so long I’d ended up with the garage doors permanently open. I’d painted it green and we’d put it out on the lawn to get a better look. I woke up next morning and opened the curtains and there it was. But the colour was wrong. Sheila said “that’s definitely a red sculpture”. She was spot on and that’s what it became.’

A year later, Month of May (1963) arrived as part of the same innovative burst, its twisted bars and foundational blocks of steel and aluminium painted in magenta, orange, and green. Together these sculptures of the early 1960s established Caro’s reputation, leading to a teaching position at Bennington College, Vermont, and solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London and the André Emmerich Gallery in New York. Caro’s radically modern, free-standing, painted steel works were subsequently showcased at documenta III in Kassel, at the Tate, and at Washington Gallery of Modern Art. His first retrospective came as early as 1967, at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. It was followed by another in 1969 at the Hayward Gallery, and his first major retrospective was held by MoMA in 1975.

Caro in Yorkshire begins inside Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s visitor’s centre, where there is an alcove display of scale models from the duration of Caro’s career. Across the park, the first room of the Longside Gallery shows some of Caro’s earliest figurative works in paper and bronze. These include small bronze figures depicting female heads, squatting warriors, and twisted bulls; and life drawings, mostly female nudes, with annotations by Henry Moore, who Caro served as an assistant between 1951-1953.

Double Flats
Double Flats (1974) by Anthony Caro, Steel rusted and waxed

The main space of the Longside Gallery opens out impressively with Month of May, and works round onto Paris Green (1966) and Sculpture Seven. The buckled steel of Xanadu (1986-88) draws from both classical Greek architecture and the painting Bathers by a River (1917) by Henri Matisse. Sackbut (2011-12) was similarly inspired by Cézanne’s The Card Players (1894-95), and marked one of Caro’s earliest uses of Perspex. This was part of the Last Sculptures, Caro’s final series of works, which saw him return to the sort of bold colour which is well represented here by Blue Moon (2013).

The Longside Gallery also features one of Caro’s Ducco Variations (1999-2000), a series in diverse materials based on The Annunciation (1307-11) by the Italian artist Duccio. And finally in the centre of the room are Caro’s paper sculptures, models and three-dimensional frames which he elaborated with the printmaker Ken Tyler in 1981 in New York, and on a visit to Obama, Japan, in 1990.

Outside, in the YSP’s parks and gardens, Promenade (1996) – which has stood in the lower park since 1998, becoming one of the YSP’s emblematic and most climbed upon sculptures – and Dream City (1992-94) have been joined by the rusted and waxed steel of Forum (1992-94). And towards Camellia House stand a strategic selection from the rusted and varnished steel Flats, a series comprising thirty-seven pieces in all which Caro completed in Canada in the middle of the 1970s.

Throughout, Caro in Yorkshire at Yorkshire Sculpture Park demonstrates the artist’s interest in volume and space above texture and shape. At the beginning of the 1960s, working in a confined environment – typically out of his garage – Caro focused on interrelating forms, rather than the appearance his sculptures would take when viewed from a conventional distance. Subsequently pieces like Month of May are best experienced up close, and from all angles. It is these daring works from the 1960s which continue to seem the most vital and the most fun, angling and pointing sharply and brightly into the air, and occasionally slithering unconstrained along the floor of the gallery.

Blue Moon
Blue Moon (2013) by Anthony Caro, Perspex and steel

Outside the Flats series experiment in a different direction: those loosely gathered at the YSP are self-effacing, and slender in bulk, with rounded edges, their blank fronts appearing as pages deliberately left unwritten. The rusted steel in orange, russet, and brown is at its best offset by all the green foliage. Yet the lack of surface interest and a certain formal rigidity render these and the other works in the lower park little more than background pieces, witnessed casually from a middle-ground. Along with some of the unpainted sculptures inside, they can be hard to grasp without a knowledge of the art – the Matisses, Cezannes, and Courbets – by which they were inspired.

The opportunity to view the full scope of Caro’s career offers suggestive parallels, and indicates that the supposed break of 1959 was not wholly decisive. Bronze figures such as Warrior I (1951-53) and Fighting Bull (1954) still show the influences of Moore and Picasso, but they already tend towards abstraction, their densely crouching forms resembling later works like Xanadu and Forum – which themselves imply something of a rapprochement with figuration. Meanwhile the Last Sculptures seem a final flourish, their angular colours and the clever use of Perspex to imply windows and mirrors – alternately framing and proving a sense of movement within fixed parts – recalling Caro’s early 1960s and its playful vigour.

Caro in Yorkshire is the first major retrospective since the artist’s death in October 2013. Sheila Girling was involved in putting together the exhibition commemorating her husband’s life, until her own death in February of this year.

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The title of Henry Moore: Back to a Land is taken from A Land by the archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes, originally published in 1951 as an evocative history digressing upon the geological and cultural formation of the British landscape. The book mentioned Moore, Hawkes writing that ‘Rodin pursued the idea of conscious, spiritual man emerging from the rock […] Moore sees him rather as always a part of it’. And in 1954, having read the work, Moore provided the drawings for an illustrated edition.

These illustrations are part of Henry Moore: Back to a Land. Also on display are the studies of Stonehenge which he made over a visit in 1973, his sketches of miners, and the drawings of the London Underground completed amidst World War II. Such series are shown alongside assorted other drawings, including Northern Landscape: Iceberg (1980) and Clouds in Sky (1982).

While several of Moore’s drawings impress with their graceful line, some enhanced by loose washes; and a couple of the Stonehenge pieces demonstrate masterful technique, depicting the full interplay of shadows and light across curved surfaces; still others seem a little outdated, even Gothic in their darkly elaborate etchings. Where the drawings really excel is in turning attention back upon the sculptures. They reveal the extent and the often surprising manner of Moore’s associations between hills, rocks, and caves, and the human body.

Large Reclining Figure 1984
Large Reclining Figure (1984) by Henry Moore, Fibreglass

Henry Moore: Back to a Land is full of reclining figures, in travertine marble, bronze, wood, and plaster. With skeletal interiors entwined in the plump traces of flesh, and abstracted body parts – heads, bones, and muscles – marked and crossed with lines, the sculptures all bear a surface interest, and show Moore’s acute sensitivity for diverse materials. Outside in Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s gardens, the exhibition brings together Large Two Forms (1966-69), Two Piece Reclining Figure: Points (1969), Reclining Figure: Angles (1979), and Large Reclining Figure (1984).

Mary Moore – who has noted that until the end of his life, her father continued to draw inspired by his native Yorkshire landscape – has also brought together for the exhibition a collection of Henry’s ethnographic objects, from the Maya, Columbia, Africa, and Egypt. These are displayed with Moore’s maquettes, notes, and tools, photographs, and a video portraying the artist at work.