Sir Anthony Caro, 'Early One Morning' 1962

Sir Anthony Caro
Early One Morning 1962
Painted steel and aluminium
object: 2896 x 6198 x 3353 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1965© Anthony Caro/Barford Sculptures Ltd

Sculptors and architects both work with form in space, albeit on different scales and using varying methods. Anthony Caro, known for taking sculpture off the plinth, likes the idea that the art form ‘has another sort of life… that’s a bit closer to architecture’. On the eve of his retrospective at Tate Britain – its largest sculpture show to date – he shares some common ground with ‘gherkin’ architect Norman Foster

Anthony Caro
When I was a student, the then professor of architecture used to talk of architects and sculptors getting together at the Royal Academy Schools. He was right. My way of working is quite different from yours, as I discovered when we worked together on the Millennium Bridge. Your thinking is from the tiny to the massive, and because you think with sketches, you get grandeur and a sense of overallness. Later you focus on the detail.

Norman Foster
Yes. Also, when the architect is thinking down to the detail and the way it all comes together, you do have to be very hands-on. And you’re integrating the world of the engineer. It’s about that fusion of professions and related interests, and the forces of nature really translated through engineering calculations, right down to the manufacturers who are going to make it.

Anthony Caro 
I used to think architects would be well advised to work with the ‘real thing’, trying things out full size and so on. Now I realise they get a lot from working more conceptually, in the way we artists don’t. We work with the real stuff, the real size. But we don’t know so much about what the air does to form – how it bites into the solid; how you need to beef things up to get them to work out of doors. I have learned a great deal from working with you, and from other projects involving architects that I’ve done in the past. In the same way, sculptors can also teach architects. We don’t see enough of each other, and that is a bad thing. Architects and sculptors should have a discourse – they should study together. Already, sitting here in your architect’s atelier, my mind is opening. I often don’t think on a different scale, because I’m tucked away in a little studio. It is great to interact with each others’ worlds. I think, though, that you have a very complicated life. I wouldn’t be an architect for anything, because you are working with so many variables.

Norman Foster
Do you know who said the same? Henry Moore. When Bob and Lisa Sainsbury presented the long-term loan of Henry Moore sculptures for the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, we all got involved with Moore in siting it. We organised the full-size plywood mock-up of the centre and used this to position the work. I remember him talking about the play of light and the way the sun came into play. And during this we were talking about the idea of what was deliberate and what was chance, and he said: ‘I would hate to be an architect, there are too many variables.’ He also made a very interesting remark about how if you really wanted to lose something in the landscape, you moved it into a dark corner, or made it a dark colour – the deep brown of tree trunks, for example. And I know there’s a connection with you and Henry Moore.

Anthony Caro
Henry had a very good understanding of placement, as well as the effects of lighting. I remember him saying: ‘Sculpture that I put down at the end of the field, with dark hedges either side, has got to be light in tone. A dark bronze would not be readable.’ You’re involved in this situation the whole time aren’t you?

Norman Foster
Yes. For the Millau Viaduct in the south of France, all the agonising decisions about this were on a mega-scale. It’s taller than the Eiffel Tower. At its highest point, it has all these cables, and the question was: do the cables go light, or do they go dark? If you see them against the landscape, they disappear if they’re dark. If you see them against the sky, then they disappear if they’re light.

Anthony Caro
And what did you do?

Norman Foster
We made them light… and prayed! You hope all the simulations and all your judgments are right. But until you see it in the flesh, you never really know. In the end it worked. You don’t get a second chance as an architect. You either get it right or not. The problem is you don’t really know until the thing is there. With sculpture you always have this wonderful ability to explore, to see it, to place it, to move it.

Anthony Caro
I hate to work with simulation. Almost always I work with the thing itself. I find it easier, and it’s much more direct. You can say that’s not right, take it away, we’ll do another. We are doing that all the time. Sculptors are also very fortunate in that we are working for ourselves. I’m not working for a client, I’m not working for a site, I’m not working with the weather; I’m working to make the thing right in my eyes. You, on the other hand, have got all that, plus all these other problems.

Norman Foster
There are so many other parties, groups and individuals involved.

Anthony Caro
It’s their dream as well as yours.

Norman Foster
I remember going back to the Sainsbury Centre several years after its completion and sitting in the conservatory, sipping a coffee and waiting to see the director. I looked around and felt for the first time that I was not ‘on duty’. It had taken that long, but I would still be looking to pick up any discrepancies: whether it’s a hair-splitting design decision, or workmanship by a craftsman over which you have no direct control. The chances are that the lay viewer might not know the difference between one item and another, but cumulatively they would add up to a significant shift in perception. Perhaps it is that roving eye which we all need to keep us sharp. When I was sipping that coffee, enough time had elapsed for me to see and, most importantly, be part of the bigger picture – surrounded by people who were obviously enjoying the experience. Sadly, it’s not always the case – changes of management, of ownership, or political skullduggery can lead to alterations which work against the grain of the original design. But maybe, like parents, we love the offspring too much. You need a high degree of passion to conceive anything – particularly something special. So if it’s ravaged later, you always feel the pain, even though you know that you have to let go and move on.

Anthony Caro
Somebody asked me recently: ‘What happens to your sculpture once you’ve made it?’ It’s important that it has a showing. If I finish it, photograph it, then put it in store, it’s only half the story. People may like it, or criticise it. But it has to go out into the world. I am seldom interested in the placement or context of my work. For one thing, I rarely take on commissions, making massive things that are going to stay there permanently. My sculptures move around more like paintings.

Sometimes the client who buys one has a better idea of where to put it than I would have had. Let it live its life. we have to say that. Anybody who is creative does their thing and you can’t nurse it after that; you nurse it from the beginning until it’s born, and once it’s born you let it go. In my life I’ve really tried to make sculpture have the need to be focused on, in the way a painting is focused on in an art gallery. I want sculpture to have that quality of fine art. The danger of it going into a public place is that you get what I call the ‘general on the horse’ syndrome. It loses its art; it becomes a monument. At the present time, sculpture is becoming very large. People seem to want it very big, often to serve a monumental purpose. That can be coped with, but I think it’s dangerous, because it could get out of fine art altogether.

Norman Foster
However, I think sculpture can have that kind of public role, akin to the obelisk in the idealised city. It can go beyond being the merely commemorative or monumental, or a sort of expression of nostalgia. I think sculpture on the civic scale has a valid and perhaps understated role. Frequently, the large-scale work is enjoyable as a counterpoint when it’s in a plaza or engaged in a dialogue with a building; that is fairly well-charted territory. Less so is the way in which sculpture could function in the urban context – a way to terminate a vista, or change the direction of a route, or to be an element in space that gives you orientation and bearing.

Anthony Caro
What you are saying makes sense, but we must never allow sculpture to become punctuation. That’s what it was in the eighteenth-century garden. Also, you must not allow it to become ‘plonked’. You pass these lumps on Sixth Avenue in New York. There’s no real reason for them. I think that’s misusing sculpture. It seems to me that there are quite different kinds of sculpture: that which I aim to make on the one hand and, on the other, what you could call civic sculpture. This sort hasn’t been studied and it needs to be – with sculptors and architects thinking together. Civic sculpture should be taught as a subject in its own right: students should be able to put up full-size maquettes that can be torn down in a couple of months, so they get to see whether they work or not. The Renaissance knew how to deal with civic art.

Norman Foster
I agree with the experimental spirit, where you could test out the concept of sculpture within the city. It is one thing perhaps to think about in the way in which we might continue to balance the European city with new interventions such as bridges or pedestrianisation schemes. However, we also need to remember the explosive population growth elsewhere and the new scale of urbanisation, where destinations are being created at a furious pace. This is not the picture of northern Europe, but of emergent nations. Look at the urbanisation of China and some of the new mega-cities of the Pacific Rim, or in places such as Kazakhstan where from a completely arid site you create a city almost as an overnight phenomenon. Should there be an experimental mode in terms of the way sculpture could play a role in those new conurbations?

Anthony Caro
Absolutely. Something happens with very big sculptures used in mega-cities. They have to be simple, to carry their intent clearly. The form becomes less important; the fact of it is very important. Having something there matters more than precisely what shape it is. All these are things that need to be addressed by people who are going to make and use big sculptures – architects and town planners, as well as sculptors.

Norman Foster
Also, the translation from the maquette is like the translation from a model to a full-size building. It’s not a case of putting something in the copying machine and adjusting the ratios up. A lot of things happen when you enlarge the scale. Factors come into play which are not there at the small scale – the way surfaces are handled, the way structure works, its reflectivity and so on.

Anthony Caro
The worst thing is to ‘blow up’ a maquette to a big size. It never works right. There is a relationship between sculptural thinking and architecture. At one time I was trying to formulate what sculpture is and what it could be. It is a thing – a thing you are outside of. Then I started worrying about why it was necessary to be outside it. Could not an internal space also be sculpture? Could it sometimes be a thing you were inside of as well – something I jokingly called ‘Sculpitecture’?

Norman Foster
That is something you have been thinking about for a long time, isn’t it? When was the first time you thought in terms of inhabited sculpture?

Anthony Caro
It was in the early 1970s I think, about the time we first met. But I was getting too much into the world of the architect. I tried to make a kind of town in my studios, but it got too fussy. However, the idea of a sculpture that you can walk through, walk into, find yourself a part of – these do seem to me to be valid considerations which could extend sculpture’s realm. How do we relate to a sculpture? This is at the heart of any new thinking. Do we walk round it? Do we look at the front of it? Do we walk through it? How do we view it? When you start walking through something, then of course it is a sculpture, but it is also something which has another sort of life, and that’s a bit closer to architecture. I think the idea of walking along something or through it, even with sculptures such as Early One Morning, is important. I don’t think it’s just to be seen on a turntable, the way we are invited to look at Brancusi’s Bird in Space, nor corkscrewing as we follow the twists around a Michelangelo slave, nor from the front and back, the way we look at Donatello. Each era has its own special way of engaging with the work. And it is something I find exciting. I have been thinking about this way of sculptural, almost architectural engagement in a work such as Millbank Steps, which I am making for the Tate exhibition. And recently, with Elena Foster’s Ivory Press, I have done a piece called Open Secret. Our hope is that it will eventually be realised on the scale of a building. Photomontages already show it in urban and rural settings, with people walking in, through and over it. It could be a library, or an exhibition or performance space, as well as a civic sculpture in its own right. That’s not to say that such a sculpture doesn’t live in its own world, but the fact that you can somehow get more into it is something I’d like to carry on pursuing.