An art of surprises

Andrew Lambirth on a triumphal exhibition of work by Anthony Caro at Tate Britain

Sir Anthony Caro celebrated his 80th birthday last year, and this slightly belated but determinedly triumphal exhibition marks a half-century of remarkable and sustained achievement. Caro is phenomenally successful, an international figure almost as prominent as Henry Moore, and equally if not more important historically. For it was Caro who revolutionised sculpture in the early 1960s, bringing it down off its pedestal and creating a vibrant and brightly coloured language of abstract form which swept the world with its radical values, spawning a host of imitators. But the story doesn’t end there, for Caro has continued to reinvent himself as an artist, opening up his art to the widest possible inspirations, from architecture to Old Masters, still capable of springing surprises in this blasé and image-saturated society.

The Tate’s monographic exhibition (until 17 April) is probably the largest it has ever mounted, though there are only 50 exhibits. Caro has taken recently to making multiple-part sculptures, and has constructed a vast new piece especially for the Duveen Gallery, entitled ‘Millbank Steps’, which comprises four colossal ziggurats of rusted steel. (The gallery floor has had to be reinforced to support the weight of them.) Depending on the way in which the visitor approaches the exhibition, this may be the first thing to be seen, though logically and chronologically it should be the last. The other approach will land the unsuspecting in the midst of the awe-inspiring installation of ‘The Last Judgment’, worthy of the Ancient Egyptians at their most death-obsessed. In point of fact, the exhibition starts in the adjacent white-walled galleries and takes us through from the early figurative sculpture of the 1950s to the imaginative work of the Eighties and Nineties.

The first room has a group of chunky and impressive cast bronzes, modelled in clay and with all sorts of rocks and pebbles applied to their surfaces for texture.

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