Writing Archive

Caro's Authority

The New York Sun, June 3, 2011 (read there)

A couple of weeks ago your author noted that appreciation of the painter Jules Olitski has largely been conducted as a proxy war against the critic Clement Greenberg. You may have witnessed related hostilities in late April, when Ken Johnson wrote about "Anthony Caro on the Roof" at the Metropolitan Museum for the New York Times. "The authoritarian, arch-formalist critic Clement Greenberg was an admirer, friend and studio consultant," he remarked. "You wonder if the influences of friends like Greenberg and [critic Michael] Fried, who dismissed most new art of the ’60s as merely entertaining novelties, may have helped to suppress Mr. Caro’s more imaginatively innovative side and to inflate a more grandiose ambition." We don't, but we understand that Johnson does.

He was more keen to accept the praise of Caro's work by Charles Ray, a Los Angeles sculptor "whose work deals in mind-altering manipulations of perception." This seemed like a strange choice until news arrived about Johnson's book to be released later this month, entitled Are You Experienced?: How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art. Greenberg has been accused of steering art history in a direction suited to his liking, hence the "authoritarian" epithet. Whether he succeeded is debatable, but you wonder—well, one might wonder—whether Johnson thusly accuses him out of contempt, or envy.

Caro remains one of the senior lions of welded sculpture, one of the greats of abstract art, and this installation on the rooftop of the Met is a fitting tribute to his powers. The painter Walter Darby Bannard wrote of Caro, "He realized, in his art, that the sensual rendering of physical states of being could come up in sculpture more freely, more explicitly, and more poignantly by the arrangement of simple non-figurative pieces of metal than by the depiction of a figure, by evoking rather than picturing. It is as if sensation itself had been taken apart and rearranged right along with the pieced metal from which it arises. Although any sculpture is an arrangement of form, Caro's is less formal than affectional. Maybe that's why it fends off analysis." It may also be why it stumped Johnson. After all, what if the authority that inheres in Caro's work is not that of The Man, as authorities were called once, but the command of enormous artistic vitality?

Word count: 383

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