'MOMENT' Varnished steel by Sir Anthony Caro, 1971.
The British sculptor SIR ANTHONY CARO (b. 1924) is one of a handful of globally recognized sculptors. In its acquisition and installation of "Moment" the Portland Museum has added significantly to the total of major sculptures in Maine, where good sculpture is hard to find, especially in public places.
When Caro made "Moment" in 1971 he was a dozen years into a transition from the more traditional sculptural materials of stone and plaster he had learned while working with Henry Moore in the early 1950s. Around 1960 he had come to the US and met, among others, the sculptor David Smith. He took to the idea of assembling sculptures by cutting and welding metal almost immediately, and began to make works that were startlingly original and resonant.
He taught sculpture in the UK for many years, and the list of sculptors of note he taught was a long one and included Isaac Witkin, who was my own mentor in metal sculpture. Witkin showed me how to go about it, and through him I started to look at Caro, who was for years a model of how good that kind of work could be. I've followed his work for years, and still do.
"Moment" is a classic of its type, assembled from ordinary steel I-beams, channels, and other familiar industrial shapes. It's a little over four feet high by eight feet in its longest dimension, and six in the other. It's organized around a wide, horizontal I-beam at its center, with other beams stacked above and assemblies of other shapes holding it up. The big beam sets the thematic tone, and the other parts collage their way into a structure. The pieces are simply welded together, just as any steel structure would be.
What makes this work stand out is that its components are not arranged, as is usually the case in many attempts to make sculptures this way. Instead they cohere, and create an identity, as if they could not have been put together any other way. Caro's senses of mass, shape, and connection make this a unit, and it occupies its space with quiet authority.
Isaac Witkin used to say that a sculpture should take over the space it occupies, and this seems to be true of any really good ones, whether it's Rodin, Brancusi, Maillol, or Serra. "Moment" is nothing more than a welded steel assembly, but it absolutely owns that space where it now lives.
"ELEGANT ENIGMAS: THE ART OF EDWARD GOREY" | at Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland | through December 29 | 207.871.1700
"MOMENT" | Sir Anthony Caro, varnished steel, 1971 | at Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland | on permanent display | 207.775.6148