Sir Anthony Caro

Table Piece LXXX


Not on display

Sir Anthony Caro 1924–2013
Painted steel
Object: 410 × 1330 × 510 mm
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax from the collection of the late Sir Anthony Caro, offered from the estate of Lady Caro (Sheila Girling) and allocated to Tate 2019


Table Piece LXXX 1969 is a welded steel sculpture painted a uniform deep blue. The sculpture is made up of three horizontal bars that bridge in a stepped manner between five cut curved steel elements – touching some of them. The sculpture is positioned towards one edge of a white painted table plinth, so that one of the horizontal bars and one of the cut curved elements that it connects to both lie below the level of the table-top. In this way the sculpture describes a contrapuntal rhythm between the convex cut elements and the horizontal bars, with a particular sense of gravitational pull achieved by the counterweight of the overhanging elements. These prevent the sculpture from being defined as being ‘on a plinth’, shifting it to one that is more closely connected to the space of the viewer in a phenomenological sense.

From the beginning of the 1960s, Anthony Caro had developed a sculptural language whose material and expressive power could be communicated immediately as a tangible physical presence in the space occupied by the viewer. In 1960, following a visit to America the previous year and responding to both the abstract painting and sculpture he had experienced there – by Kenneth Noland (1924–2010) and David Smith (1906–1965) respectively – he began to create work that was frontal, planar, non-connotational in its use of structural steel girders (as used by the building trade) and anonymous scrap metal, and positioned directly on the same ground as the viewer. Such sculpture required a certain size and scale; by 1966 Caro was trying to find a way to make smaller sculptures – not as a retreat from creating large work (which he continued to make) but instead to grapple with a problem of scale that his sculpture posed. He wanted to find a way to make smaller sculptures that would not be maquettes for sculptures nor smaller reduced versions of his large sculptures, but would also inhabit the space of the viewer in the same way his larger work did and a smaller sculpture placed on the floor could not.

The solution presented itself to Caro during a discussion with the critic Michael Fried in 1966; Fried visited Caro’s studio following the sculptor’s return from the Venice Biennale where he had been one of the artists representing Britain. The conversation led to Caro tackling ‘the table as a sculptural challenge in its own right exploring the problem of scale, height, table-edge, and the relationship to our personal space’ (G.M. Forty, ‘Preface’, in British Council 1977, unpaginated). The success of the discovery that this conversation initiated was largely determined by Caro’s decision to conceive sculptures for the table-top, while ensuring that one or more elements of the sculpture hung below the level of the table-top itself. As Fried explained:

This had the effect of precluding the transposition of the sculpture, in fact or imagination, to the ground – of making the placement of the sculpture on the table-top a matter of formal necessity. And it at once turned out that by tabling or precluding grounding the sculptures in this way Caro was able at a stroke to establish their smallness in terms that were not a function of actual size. That is, the distinction between tabling and grounding, determined as it was by the sculptures themselves, made itself felt as equivalent to what might be thought of as a qualitative as opposed to quantitative, or abstract as opposed to literal, difference in scale.
(Michael Fried ‘Anthony Caro’s Table Sculptures’, in ibid., unpaginated.)

The character of this overhang locates the work in the space of the viewer who encounters it as integral with the table-top plinth. This comparatively simple compositional device led to a sequence of works of great variety explored through the broad span of Caro’s subsequent career. An earlier work such as Table Piece XXVIII 1967 (Tate T12326) is created from elements that have domestic familiarity, whereas Table Piece LXXXII 1969 (Tate T01151) – made at the same time as Table Piece LXXX – describes a closing-up of space or a covering over that is in complete contrast to the light and airy rhythm described by Table Piece LXXX.

Further reading
Anthony Caro Table Sculptures 1966–1977, exhibition catalogue, British Council, London 1977.
Ian Barker, Anthony Caro, Quest for the New Sculpture, Aldershot 2004.
Paul Moorhouse, Anthony Caro, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005.

Andrew Wilson
April 2018

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