Anthony Caro, 'Whispering', 1969. Steel, painted wood. © Barford Sculptures, photo John Riddy.
During the 1960s and 1970s, an extraordinary surge of inventive restlessness transformed sculpture in Britain. Determined to break free from carving stones and modelling bronzes, Anthony Caro
began welding in steel, very often painting abstractions like Whispering in brilliant colours. But Caro’s revolution was soon challenged by an abundance of radical alternatives. Bold young sculptors emerged, intoxicated with adventurous excitement. And now a fascinating survey at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds reveals just how liberating this period really was. Its curator, Jon Wood, calls the show 'United Enemies'. It vividly conveys the competitive spirit running through the work of dramatically diverse artists, all bent on overturning old ideas about what sculpture should be.
The sense of daring appears at once in a spectacular work by Roelof Louw. He shocked everyone in 1967 with Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges). Viewers were invited to eat the 6,000 oranges which Louw had carefully arranged in a pyramidal form. So he wanted his sculpture to be devoured completely, and at Leeds plenty of visitors are grabbing the chance to take a bite - myself included.
Roelof Louw, 'Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges)', 1967 6,000 large oranges, timber framework, plastic ground sheet. © Leeds Museums and Galleries (Art Gallery) and the artist.
John Latham, 'The Laws of England', 1967. Polystyrene foam, books. Courtesy Flat Time House and Lisson Gallery.
As it happens, the late 1960s was an especially audacious time. The Boyle Family showed Objects Excavated During Dig Project, including a dirty old pile of newspapers tied up with string. The only words I could read on them referred to “Tony Hancock” and “Finest Steaks In The World.” Dignified books fascinated John Latham. In 1967 he made a bizarre work called The Laws of England, where brown polystyrene foam seems to have erupted from some mighty legal volumes and slid down their sides, leaving a trail of nasty slime behind.
The influence of this widespread rebellion can still be felt today. In 1972 the pioneering Richard Long
explored An English Frontier by walking all the way along Hadrian’s Wall with six companions, including Tony Cragg
and Bill Woodrow.
Since then, they have made a major contribution to the exceptional vitality of British sculpture today.
United Enemies - The Problem of Sculpture in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s
is at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, Until 11 March 2012