Anthony Caro began making table sculptures in 1966. This development, which can be seen as a discrete thread within his oeuvre, commenced an area of activity within his broader output of sculptures placed directly on the floor or ground. By definition these works are modest in scale in comparison with his larger abstract sculptures and their generic title alludes to this essential quality of reduced size, the works being conceived for a surface whose scale relates to that of a table. From the outset the table sculptures were conceived as works in their own right, rather than as maquettes (preparatory or smaller versions of large sculptures) and were intended to deal with issues and to deploy qualities unique to their scale.
Table Piece CCLXVI is constructed on a human scale. At just over two metres wide it is comparable to the width of a person’s outstretched arms. Caro has observed that: ‘all sculpture is to do with the physical – all sculpture takes its bearings from the fact that we live inside our bodies and that our size and stretch and strength is what it is’ (Anthony Caro, 2005, p.25). This work consists of metal strips that are drawn into ribbon-like folds, curves and lines, creating a tension between the intractable nature of the work’s material and the freedom with which it inscribes the surrounding space. These movements, particularly given their scale, can be connected with the notion of painterly gesture which implies the trace of the artist’s own physical movements. A curving horizontal band runs the entire width of the sculpture. Two parallel vertical lines fall from this uppermost linear strip. Suspended from these is a long, swirling, band of metal. These four bands overlap to describe the shape of a rectangle, creating a frame through which the other elements of the sculpture can be viewed. Irregular metal bands, curving up and down, are the means by which these vertical elements are connected to the horizontal plane of the table top. Linearity, the relationship with drawing and an impetus towards leaner, more reductive means, were the defining characteristics of Caro’s sculpture during the mid 1960s. This work, dating from some ten years later, deepens the artist’s concern with these issues.
In his earliest table sculptures one of Caro’s main strategies was to include within the fabric of works elements of real, recognisable objects, notably tool parts. The simple device of incorporating some scissor handles, for example, immediately fixed the scale: the viewer sees that the work relates to the scale of the human hand. A later innovation, of which Table Piece CCLXVI is an outstanding exemplar, was to develop the composition of the table-based sculpture in ways which took the component elements beyond the supporting surface into the surrounding space. By the use of parts which hang over the edge of the supporting surface, or by using elements which project into the surrounding space, the scale of the sculpture is drawn into the real world. Establishing a dynamic interaction with the plane supporting the sculpture is significant because it is clear that the work can only exist positioned on a table top and cannot be scaled up for siting on the ground. In this way the work asserts its intimate connection with the horizontal plane by which it is supported.
Paul Moorhouse (ed.), Anthony Caro, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005.
Julius Bryant, Anthony Caro: A Life in Sculpture, London 2004.
Anthony Caro: Table Sculptures 1966-1977, British Council exhibition catalogue, London 1977