Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word and Image at the Victoria and Albert Museum, curated the exhibition Caro: Close Up, and opened the show on October 17th with an illuminating lecture. The exhibition features Sir Anthony Caro’s early paintings and smaller sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art, and Bryant’s lecture focused on a thought-provoking assertion: the way a work of art is displayed changes our understanding of that work. Although Caro, a prolific artist boasting a career spanning six decades, is most famous for his large, abstract steel collage sculptures fashioned from recycled steel, he has also produced many smaller scale sculptures in mediums ranging from ceramic to paper.
These smaller sculptures, Bryant observes, have an intimacy about them that the viewer poorly appreciates when they are displayed in traditional museum gallery spaces, with artificial lighting and backdrops of austere white walls. Inspired by the ways in which private owners of Caro’s art as well as Caro himself integrated his smaller sculptures into their homes, where they take on a new and warmer character, Bryant sought to re-create this effect in an exhibition here at Yale.
Yale Center for British Art is perhaps the ideal setting for an exhibition that endeavors to inspire the same intimacy between viewer and art that one feels when the art becomes a part of one’s home. Designed by the renowned mid twentieth century architect Louis Kahn, the Yale Center British Art’s interior space—with its travertine marble floors, columns, and oak and Belgian linen walls—perhaps bears more resemblance to a British country home than many museum spaces.
Exploiting the unique intimacy of the museum’s interior space, Bryant designs an exhibit that showcases the energy and vitality of Caro’s work. By placing the piece Deluge in front of a large window looking out on to a tree whose branches seem to cascade downwards, Bryant invites the viewer to appreciate the harmony between the sculpture and its setting. The interplay between the sculpture and setting creates a narrative so that the viewer not only looks at, but listens to and converses with the sculpture. In and through this narrative, the viewer understands the work intimately—and ever moreso as the sun changes position, the light changes, and the process of looking and understanding begins anew.
Below is a fantastic video interview of Sir Anthony Caro by Julius Bryant, which took place earlier this fall at Caro’s studio in Camden Town, in North London.