A legacy at the Esker

AnthonyCaro (1024x688)

I have enjoyed a guilty pleasure of late when visiting the Esker Foundation.

About six months ago the Esker staff placed a powerful and handsome sculpture by Anthony Caro entitled Catalope, 1981 outside their main doors.  It brought me much pleasure immediately upon first seeing it.  I knew exactly whose work it was and was so excited on seeing it, that I had to thank the staff for putting it out and I have done so every other time that I have been there since.

It is something that is so remote – we rarely see anything like it in Calgary.

Well. . . sorta.  There are a few others around that have a linear progression from Anthony Caro, but not sure if they are all still on public view.

  • There was a small sculpture garden that used to be discretely placed at the University of Calgary.  It was off to the side, behind the old Library Tower.  It held works by Catherine Burgess, Isla Burns, Alan Reynolds, Ben McLeod and others.  I am guessing, but it is probably about where the Taylor Digital Library is now standing;
  • There is a stately Douglas Bentham outside the main entrance of the Harry Hays Building that is really easy to miss;
  • Then there is the quiet Henry Saxe sculpture discretely located in the lawn between the Harry Hays Building and the river – all presumably from around the same general period as the Caro;
  • More recently there is a squat, compact and sensual Isla Burns from the 1990s that occupies a small alcove on a +15 bridge;
  • Finally there is a recent Ken Macklin in the courtyard of an office tower downtown.

Sir Anthony Caro is a legendary British sculptor and is considered by many to be the greatest British sculptor of his generation.  He had a good mentor as he was Henry Moore’s studio assistant during the 1950s.  He then came to critical notice in the early 1960s at Whitechapel Gallery and his ground-breaking work from that period broke open how sculpture was seen for the remainder of the 20th century.  His influence is still felt today, although rarely recognized – at least in Calgary.

Caro reputation as a pioneer was ground-breaking.  As Will Gompertz, Arts editor at BBC has stated, he ”remov(ed) the plinth in sculpture and instead plac(ed) his work directly on the ground (which) not only changed our relationship with the artwork but the future direction of sculpture itself.” [1.]

Sir Anthony Caro had a significant impact on our neighbours to the north.  He would periodically visit the University of Alberta and provide workshops there and was once a workshop leader at Emma Lake in 1977.  One of the professors at the University of Alberta, Peter Hide was a studio assistant to Sir Anthony Caro prior to accepting a professorship in Edmonton.  Caro’s impact continued to influence Edmonton to the point where it was often referred to in sculptural circles as steel city.

A number of years ago I curated a large non-representational (or pure-abstraction) show of two- and three-dimensional work in prime downtown Calgary real estate.  I leased numerous spaces occupying nearly half the building footprint of Art Central on the +15 level, at market rates.  In the months leading up to the show I travelled widely collecting works and doing studio visits in anticipation of the show.  As a result of this and my personal passion and dedication to show the work I was extremely successful in getting some amazing pieces.  It was the quality of work that a regional art museum of any size would be happy to have for their collection as the works were predominately of those from Western Canada.  It contained a virtual who’s who of abstraction in the region, unless there was compelling reason not to include certain artists, such as geographical exclusivity in representation.

It was a labour of love.

I knew this going in.  I had worked in the Calgary arts scene long enough to know this.  It was definitely not going to be a financial success.

Unfortunately there was no catalogue produced, although I have in my files a listing of all the work that was included.  Regardless of the financial outcome, it was a show that I am extremely proud of doing.  At one of the stops I visited an artist who had a table top work of Sir Anthony Caro’s in his dining room.  It was a stunning work probably a little bit more recent than the work illustrating this post, which is in the lobby just outside of the Esker Foundation doors.

This all is my long-winded way of saying that last week, Sir Anthony Caro passed away.  He was 89.

His influence will definitely be missed. [2.]



[1.] Will Gompertz’ quote is found here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24654484

[2.] Sir Anthony Caro’s obituary.  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/24/sir-anthony-caro