Placing 'Open Secret' within Anthony Caro’s six-decade career:
Sir Anthony Caro is one of the most recognized 20th-century abstract sculptors in the world and is credited as one of the most influential British artists of all time. Produced during the last decade of his life, Open Secret is an amalgamation of Caro’s career as a sculptor. Even though he is most notably known for producing free-standing, monumental works often painted in bright colours, such as Promenade from 1996, Caro was also intrigued by the power of smaller-scale sculpture. In particular, the unique challenge they present to appear as complete, unique pieces rather than models of larger works. Caro referred to his smaller-scale pieces as ‘table sculptures’. He began to produce these during the late 1960s after becoming bored “with everything standing on the floor.” Still refusing, however, to isolate his sculptures by placing them on plinths, Caro dubbed his smaller works ‘table sculptures’ because the viewer would still be able to interact with them as one would with a mug or plate. Furthermore, by permeating their way into the domestic setting, these sculptures exist in a more intimate space than his monumental works. While the purpose of sculpture remained the same: “it is all a discovery of what the body is about,” the smaller works add another layer to Caro’s multifaceted oeuvre.
Evoking a book which is only fully experienced when opened, Open Secret turns the beholder into a participant much like the table sculptures, as they interact with discovering what lies within. Books, specifically those in Henry Moore’s library, played a key role in shaping Caro’s work. In his own words, Moore’s library proved to be “an opening of a new world.” It seems suitable that, as Caro found much inspiration in books, the beholder too should want to find out more about Caro through a sculpture evoking a literary volume.
Beyond looking very different from other works across his oeuvre, Open Secret allowed Caro to approach his craft in a different manner. Throughout his entire career, Caro created his sculptures by first conceptualising a general idea and then beginning to render said idea by putting together bits of material taken from what he referred to as a “pile of pieces”. By combining different pieces together, Caro’s original idea slowly began to take material form until the sculpture told him that it was finished. In the case of Open Secret, according to Anthony Caro’s long-time studio assistant, Partick Cunningham, the artist approached the work very differently because “all the elements had to be made, rolled, curved, and cut.” In other words, Caro created a “pile of pieces” from the imagination which he then fitted together to create Open Secret. Not surprising since, as Caro claimed, “I want to keep challenging myself in doing things that I find difficult.”
Working alongside architects Norman Foster and Frank Gehry at the time, it was suggested to Caro that his sculpture too evoked a piece of architecture. Starting in the late 1980s, Caro became interested in exploring the concept of interior space and sculpture as enclosure. While not interested in the mechanics, Caro stated he would “love to make it into a building…[one where] the whole roof opened.” A black silk cover printed via silkscreen by Nicola Killeen made especially for Open Secret depicts renderings of Caro’s sculptures as buildings placed in different topographies.