Midday, 1960, Anthony Caro, painted steel, 7' 73/4" x 37 3/8" x 12' 1 1/4" (233.1 x 95 x 370.2 cm), collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, photo: MMA

Midday, 1960, Anthony Caro, painted steel, 7′ 73/4″ x 37 3/8″ x 12′ 1 1/4″ (233.1 x 95 x 370.2 cm), collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, photo: MMA

There are two ways to think about a sculpture exhibition on the MMA’s roof — the pleasure of being there, surrounded by rosy sun-lit skyscrapers in one direction, Central Park in another, the big sky and fresh air.  And then there are the sculptures themselves that are set against this gorgeous backdrop.

This year the roof is given over the eight large works by the British sculptor Anthony Caro (b.1924).  Caro had a really important idea in the early 1960’s — to use found industrial metal parts, already made but able to be alteredto construct large sculpture.  It was a key contribution, a further development from the use of found objects or ready mades for the creation of art discovered by Dada artists in the early 20th Century — one of the greatest inventions — if not the greatest — of modern art.   And boldly he sets his works directly on the ground — no bases.  In contrast to his work in the new-for-art material, Caro’s forms remain conservative, though, in the Cubist tradition.  Still, he grows as a sculptor — and all this can been seen in the current mini-retrospective on the roof.

For instance, the earliest work in this exhibition, Midday of 1960 (illustrated top of page), is constructed completely of I-beams, cut and arranged in a kind of bench form, 12 feet in its longest dimension, and painted all-over yellow.  In it, he pulls away from the swooping curves and organically felt figures of the British sculptor Henry Moore, whom he’d worked for in the ’50’s.  Newly arrived in the U.S. , he’s fallen in with a forward-looking  group of young American  abstract artists.  He expresses his excitement:  “America made me see that there are no barriers and no regulations.”  It’s interesting, though, that while looking forward in his materials, he bypasses the most liberating aspects of the American artists he met, David Smith, Kenneth Noland, as well as of Moore himself.  Caro translates some of the more abstract aspects of Cubism into large scale sculpture of industrial metal.

After Summer, 1968, painted steel, 5' 2" x 19' x 24' (157.5 x 579.1 x 731.5 cm), collection of Audrey and David Mirvish, Toronto, photo MMA.

After Summer, 1968, painted steel, 5′ 2″ x 19′ x 24′ (157.5 x 579.1 x 731.5 cm), collection of Audrey and David Mirvish, Toronto, photo MMA.

But after this straight edge period — a young artist’s reaction to the notably swooping curves of his mentor, Moore — he allows curves to creep back into his work.  At first the curves are a kind of mathematical sections, as in After Summer of 1968, above, a piece that’s softened by its outdoor setting, where it takes on the breezy suggestion of an armada of sailboats, or Viking ships … or ancient Minoan “horns of consecration.”

Odalisque, 1984, Steel, 77 x 100 x 65" (195.6 x 254 x 165.1 cm), collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo: MMA

Odalisque, 1984, Steel, 77 x 100 x 65″ (195.6 x 254 x 165.1 cm), collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo: MMA

In Odalisque of 1984, the curves begin to suggest the organic;  it’s even somewhat representational — a woman.  Odalisques — exotic, reclining women, and a favorite theme of art — are almost inevitably curvaceous.  Caro’s Odalisque conveys the shapes — fundamental relationships of masses — of a woman with her perky little head and voluptuous body, comfortably reclining with bent knees, leaning on her elbow — a monumental cubist rearrangement, rendered in steel with Picasso-esque wit.

It’s remarkable and inspiring the find in the current work of this 88-year

End Up, 2010, Steel rusted, cast iron and jarrah wood, 72 x 90 1/4 x 62 1/4" (182.9 x229.2 x 158.1 cm), collection of the artist, courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY, photo MMA.

End Up, 2010, Steel rusted, cast iron and jarrah wood, 72 x 90 1/4 x 62 1/4″ (182.9 x229.2 x 158.1 cm), collection of the artist, courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY, photo MMA.

old sculptor a release from Cubist restraints beyond anything he’d reached so far.  End Up of 2010 looks at first straight-line geometric but — check this on the roof — there’s a really wildly suggestive curving form squiggling between the larger metal pieces.  With a little imagination it becomes X-rated.  Also, he brings back with End Up  a crafted wooden base.

And in an interview among his roof-top sculptures, Caro, charming, articulate, friendly, and alive to questions, told us that currently he’s hard at work designing a three-block long sculpture for the median grassy strip of Park Avenue in NYC — unless (he says) it grows longer!

Anthony Caro, photo MMA

Anthony Caro, photo MMA

Anthony Caro on the Roof will continue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC through October 30, 2011.  Museum hours:  Tues – Thur 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm, Fri and Sat 9:30 am to 9:00 pm, Sun 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm, usually closed Mondays but check with the Metropolitan Museum of Art website  (click on link) for holiday dates, and suggested admission prices (suggested so don’t stay away if you don’t have the full admission –pay what you can).  The exhibition “Anthony Caro on the Roof” is included with your admission.   Refreshments are available for purchase on the roof.