Sir Anthony Caro

Twenty Four Hours


Not on display

Sir Anthony Caro 1924–2013
Painted steel
Object: 1384 × 2235 × 838 mm
Weight: 125kg
Cased weight: 415kg
Purchased 1975

Display caption

This is a seminal piece in the history of British art, as both Caro’s first abstract and first welded sculpture. He abandoned the figure following a visit to the USA in 1959 where he was in close contact with the American art critic Clement Greenberg and such abstract painters as Kenneth Noland.Constructed from found pieces of steel, Twenty Four Hours reflects the impact of American art on Caro and belonged to Greenberg at one time.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Painted steel, 54×88×33 (137.2×223.5×199.1)
Purchased from Mr and Mrs Clement Greenberg through Aquavella Contemporary Art, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1975
Coll: Bought by Clement Greenberg from the artist c. 1964–5
Exh: Anthony Caro, Whitechapel Art Gallery, September–October 1963 (1. repr.); Anthony Caro, Washington Gallery of Modern Art, February–March 1965 (1); New British Painting and Sculpture, organised by the Whitechapel Art Gallery for UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angeles, and tour, 1963, (repr.); Anthony Caro, Hayward Gallery, January–March 1969 (4, repr. on cover and pp.22–3)
Lit: Lawrence Alloway, ‘An Interview with Anthony Caro’ in Gazette, No. 1, 1961, p.1; Charles Harrison, ‘London Commentary: Anthony Caro's Retrospective Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery’ in Studio International, CLXXVII, 1969, pp.130–1; Phyllis Tuchman, ‘An Interview with Anthony Caro’ in Artforum, X, June 1972, pp. 56–8; Richard Whelan, Anthony Caro, 1974, pp. 29–32 (3, repr. p.28); William S. Rubin, Anthony Caro, London, 1975, repr. p.23

‘Twenty-Four Hours’ was Caro's first finished welded steel sculpture and his first fully abstract work: he explains ‘I started working in steel around 1 January 1960 and made two or three steel pieces which I destroyed before making “Twenty-Four Hours”’.

The sculpture was finished in March 1960. Caro wrote ‘I do not remember exactly how long it took to make. I worked on it alone and was not working on other pieces concurrently’.

It was made in the artist's garage at his home, 111 Frognal, Hampstead. He used a gas cutter and gas welder, to help him with the construction (he had no electric arc welder). Jim Sherriff gave Caro some help in the gas welding. The raw materials came from the scrapyards at Canning Town near the docks.

After the large sections of welded steel had been bolted to one another the final ensemble was painted with ordinary gloss household paint, a mixture of Valspar Dark Oak and Valspar Black. Caro's reason for painting the sculpture were, he claims, to make it ‘look straightforward: no art props, no nostalgia no feelings of the preciousness associated with something because it's old bronze, or it's rusty encrusted or patinated. So I just covered it with a coat of paint’ (loc. cit 1972).

The title of ‘Twenty-Four Hours’ was suggested by the artist's wife.

‘Twenty-Four Hours’ marks a change of direction in Caro's work. Following his return from America in December 1959 he started to do some non-figurative sculpture in plaster. The change to welding was prompted by his desire ‘to get away from all the old sort of work associated with plaster and clay, and I thought the best way was to change my habits’ (Lawrence Alloway, op.cit). Although the change from figurative to non-figurative seems a radical change of direction, essentially his ideas remained constant.

‘Twenty-Four Hours’ is an extremely frontal work. This is because it was made in a restricted space (in the artist's garage) and Caro never allowed himself to step back from the work. The advantages of working in this confined area Caro has outlined as follows: ‘The advantages of making them where I couldn't stand back from them was that I used this limitation to prevent my falling back on my previous knowledge of balance and composition. That's not new. Kenneth, Noland told me in 1959 how he painted on the floor and on saw horses for the same reason. Working in a one-car garage as I used to do was a way of trying to force my mind to accept a new sort of rightness that I wanted -I had to refrain from backing away and editing the work prematurely’ (Phyllis Tuchman, loc.cit). One result of using this working method is that Caro considers that his sculptures should be viewed indoors, outside he thinks ‘the grip of the sculpture is diffused’.

Caro's decision to adopt Noland's restricted working method was only one change in his work which stemmed from his visit to New York. Caro claimed: ‘America was certainly the catalyst in the change. For one thing I realised that I had nothing to lose by throwing out History ... America made me see that there are no barriers and no regulations -they simply aren't bound to traditional or conventional notions in their art or anything else, behaviour, roads, or anything. There is a tremendous freedom in knowing that your only limitations in sculpture or painting are whether it carries its intention or not, not whether it's “Art”’.

The debt to Noland in T01987 at first glance seems substantial. Caro himself has pointed out the similarity between the ring in the centre disk of T01987 and Noland's ‘so-called targets’ (letter of 30 June 1976). However, in the same letter, he also stresses that the flatness, and frontal symmetry of ‘Twenty-Four Hours’, which have also been traced back to Noland's work, are wholly attributable to his new materials- ‘flat sheets of steel’.

The other important contact Caro made on this trip to New York was with David Smith. However, he did not visit his home and studio in Bolton Landing in Upper New York State until 1963, so his knowledge of Smith's work was limited to one or two pieces only. In spite of this Caro agrees that Smith served as a model for freedom and accomplishment with ready made materials-liberation from the old norms of sculpture. Smith and Noland, Caro explains ‘both influenced my attitude towards my art in a general way (rather than saying they specifically inspired this work) ... It was my wife in fact who was an important influence in making this particular work’ (30 June 1976).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978



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