an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, December 2006, ISSN 1552-5112






Inside and Outside the Frame of Picturality

Cristina Albu



                          fig 1                                                                                fig 2

(fig 1) Anthony Caro, Déjeuner sur l'herbe II (1989), Steel rusted and fixed, 82 x 280.5 x 185.5 cm

(fig 2) Edouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863), Oil on canvas, 214 x 269 cm






Anthony Caro’s sculptures do not fit into a linear art historical narrative. The artist has constantly shifted his attention from modeling to casting, from expressive figuration to pure abstraction, from the use of bronze and scrapyard materials to that of clay, paper, wood and terracotta. Throughout his artistic career, he has repeatedly invented new challenges for himself, refusing to be identified with a single style or technique. Caro took sculpture off of its plinth, yet subsequently framed it within the space of table structures of diverse shapes and sizes. Likewise, he transferred the expressiveness of sculptural forms into the realm of ingenious colors of abstract works, only to abandon its symbolism altogether and focus on the highly suggestive syntax of his sculptures. Acknowledging Caro’s movement away from radical abstraction in the 1980s and towards the search for sources that lie beyond the strict boundaries of medium-specificity, Peter Fuller rightly remarked that “formalist criticism will have enormous difficulties in attempting to come to terms with Caro’s recent achievement.”[1]

Due to the limitations of art historical interpretations which demand the fixity of original artistic intent and the identification of precise points of reference in Caro’s sculptures, Table Piece Y-98 ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe II’ (1989) has frequently been perceived as a sculptural illustration of Edouard Manet’s famous painting. Its sphere of meaning has thus often been restricted to its identification with a formalist translation from one artistic medium to another. Nonetheless, Caro’s sculpture refuses to be confined to the canonical coordinates it hints at; instead, it can be seen from within a framework of analysis in which reality and picturality merge, thanks to its highly allusive power and its direct or indirect link to a multiple series of artworks.  

   The present paper is an attempt at a post-structural understanding of the relationship between Manet’s and Caro’s approach to the déjeuner theme, one which proposes a more nuanced view of the correspondence between signifiers and signifieds in the two artworks. A deconstruction of the predominant critical interpretations can reveal the instability of meaning in Caro’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe II. The play between the two déjeuners’ denotations and connotations is highly vivid in the context of their temporal and spatial distance from one another.

Caro chooses to engage in a dialogue with Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe. The sculpture is focused on the portrayal of human bodies, while the landscape and the still life are more fragmented, receding to the left corner of the composition. The continuum between bodies and pictorial space moves towards a continuum between the art object’s space and the viewer’s space as a tray-like shape stretches out of the table, emphasizing the horizontality of the composition while it substitutes for the perceptual relationship established between the spectator and the intense female gaze seductively directed outside Manet’s pictorial frame. At first sight, the nude woman and the two men in Manet’s painting appear to be the only figures that correspond to the “characters” in the sculptural composition. They appear to be enduring memory traces of the artist’s viewings of the artwork. Their silhouettes are abstracted and, although their sculpted contours are sharper than the lines of the pictorial representation, a complete recognition of the three characters’ identity is denied because no cultural signage is provided.

Through his incomplete references to the 19th century paragon of Modernism, Caro emphasizes the painting’s lack of interpretative closure that has originally aroused the hostility of critics. His sculpture has been marked by its exploration of the pictorial canon. Both his drive for abstraction in the 1960s and his drive for abstracted figuration in the 1980s were prompted by a careful consideration of pictorial compositions. Encouraged by Greenberg to change his habits in order to bring a transformation to his sculpture, Caro visited the USA in 1959, coming into contact with Kenneth Noland’s and Jules Olitski’s post-abstract expressionist painting.  From that point on, his sculpture went through a process of complete metamorphosis. He abandoned figuration almost entirely and substituted the expressiveness of referential elements with the playful expressiveness of indirect suggestions elicited by the complex syntax of his sculptures. One of Caro’s first overt references to a pictorial source came in Can Co Cezanne (1975), a clay sculpture that is part of a series of thirty-three works and is reminiscent of the sharply geometric forms of Cezanne’s still-lives. Its name is derived from the Continental Can Corporation, whose headquarters had been converted into the sculpture workshop of Syracuse University. As the title does not point to the precise painting which inspired its theme, the sculpture is evocative not so much of a specific canonical landmark as of a time of rupture in art history (since Cezanne is considered the precursor of Cubism). Caro has had a constant preoccupation with the periods of crisis in both painting and sculpture, and in his diaries he even developed a theory about stylistic change. According to Caro, painting and sculpture styles change over time as a result of the dynamic interactions between them. They feed off each other, acting as force and counterforce for medium evolution within art history, “When in the 17th century sculpture became decorative, the next big thrust (Rodin, Degas, etc.) was for sculpture to recover its expressiveness. In painting this had happened with Monet and Impressionism: now sculpture naturally looked to painting to recover its feeling.”[2] Thus, his theory on stylistic changes is influenced by a Wőfflinian belief in a cyclical resurgence of the primacy of each medium, whose contours are nonetheless never rigorously fixed, since transformations in the artistic field are only possible thanks to a dialogue between painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Supporting the interconnections between art mediums and the idea of re-interpretations of the canon, in 1975 Caro wrote a letter to John Hale, the chairman of the National Gallery in London, proposing a series of lectures that would challenge the ordinary analysis of Old Masters’ paintings. They would rescue them from a canonical perspective and would present their works as if they had freshly emerged from the artists’ studios in the 20th century. Probably as a result of his interest in such a less conventional approach, the National Gallery invited Caro to display one of his sculptures in the company of paintings of his own choice. The exhibition took place in 1977 and was entitled The Artist’s Eye. While commending Caro’s wish to show an abstract sculpture in the context of Old Masters paintings, John Russell, the art critic of New York Times, decried the sculptor’s selection of this particular artwork, writing that its illusive morphology, resembling graceful traces of brush strokes, and its positioning against the gallery wall emphasized its pictorial condition rather than the specific characteristics of the sculptural medium.

Though his works are embedded in the history of painting rather than in that of sculpture, Caro does not seek engagement with the formal problematics of either medium. Viewers are enticed to identify possible allusions to canonical works. In The Artist’s Eye exhibition, Caro chose to surround Orangerie with paintings of diverse styles and themes which shared similar compositional syntax[3]. By exposing the numerous links that can be established between apparently disjoined artistic periods and distinct figurative representations, he showed that the origin of his sculpture does not rest within a unique artwork. Instead, he is inspired by the correspondences that can be established between abstract signifiers and landscapes, portraits, and still-lives that have become pictorial landmarks within the art historical narrative. Explaining his preference for the painting canon, Caro underlined the freedom he experienced while improvising on a medium that required fewer formal constraints: “It was better to go to painting than to old sculpture because painting gave one ideas of what to do but no direct instructions on how to do it.”[4] In the case of Orangerie, the allusions to other paintings were the result of its juxtaposition with Old Master works in the National Gallery exhibition. In the case of sculptures of the 80s and 90s, the references to pictorial signifiers are either extremely subtle, since their sources are tentatively identified by critics,[5] or sharply overt, since their very title incorporates the precise name of the painter and of the work that inspired the abstract configuration.[6]

Déjeuner sur l’herbe II situates itself in the intermediary position, as Caro does not directly refer to Manet, but incorporates in his title the name of the 19th century painting. Caro considers the titles of his works as elements adjacent to the sculptural composition, which needs to remain open to negotiations of meaning. In his 1975 interview with Lisa Lyons, he observed that most of the titles of his works are just a matter of identification and are not supposed to limit the visitor’s perceptual relation to the piece[7]. Starting with the second half of the 80s, Caro’s references to the canon were becoming less and less covert. In the exhibition Aspects of Anthony Caro. Recent Sculpture 1981-1989, held jointly by Annely Juda and Knoedler Gallery, his works that originated in the syntax or thematics of other art objects were coined “source sculptures.” They were considered to indicate the artist’s engagement in “a dialogue with other disciplines, such as architecture, or the study of old master paintings”[8] and his departure from a preoccupation with the inherent qualities of the materials used. Déjeuner sur l’herbe II was included in the exhibition and was designated by Tim Hilton “the most complex work of the late eighties.”[9]

Déjeuner sur l’herbe II is far from being a sculpture that functions solely in conjunction with its reflection of the source painting. Its meaning oscillates within the space between the signifiers of the two artworks. It is the indefiniteness of formal parallelisms combined with the field of open significations that render Caro’s sculpture more than a translation of the 19th century representation in an abstracted mode. In 2005, Manet’s and Caro’s Déjeuners were juxtaposed within the same exhibition space at the Musée d’Orsay. Once the material boundaries between the two works collapsed, their meaning tended to be restricted to the range of formal similarities and differences between them. The display attracted interpretations which underscored medium-specificity characteristics and the metamorphosis of Manet’s painting into an abstract composition. Thus, in the exhibition catalogue, Ann Hindry noted that “Caro’s work drew its rich singularity, as he developed as an artist, from his ability to assimilate and reinterpret – in three dimensions and for his own purposes – formal conventions going back to Renaissance, the lessons of Manet, the principles of Cubism.”[10] But Caro’s approach to the Déjeuner sur l’herbe entails more than a change of expressive means; it is simultaneously an elusive presence and an elusive absence as it addresses the viewer’s imaginative and mnemonic abilities. From a phenomenological perspective, Déjeuner sur l’herbe II is placed within the scope of the “third distance,” perceptual mechanisms defined by Ortega y Gasset as “acts of mentioning”[11] in which the index of representation is only alluded to and cannot be visually retrieved as entirely real. Caro’s sculpture might be viewed as a trace of Manet’s work, other paintings dealing with the same theme, or a reproduction furtively seen in an art album or calendar.

The distance between creation and re-creation of a particular artistic theme is like the distance between reality and its representation: the denotation and the connotation of the “real” image or of the re-contextualized “framed image” are the objects of subjective perceptions. No unique truth can be established, as the image is neither entirely real, nor entirely virtual. Jacques Derrida has uncovered four different processes through which truth is usually reconstituted: truth as “unveiling” (unmediated reflection), truth as “adequation” (subjectivized translation), truth as “picturality”/sculpturality (characteristic of representation in a specific artistic medium) and truth as “passe-partout” (accommodating differences in terms of both form and content).[12] In connection with Caro’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe II, two of these methods of truth-investigation seem to have been favored. Interpretations based on truth as “unveiling,” “adequation,” and “picturality” have been privileged by certain critics who have seen Déjeuner sur l’herbe II as an approximate or accurate sculptural rendition of a pictorial model. Nonetheless, Ian Barker rightly suggested in his critical biography of Anthony Caro that it is necessary to debunk one-sided analyses of source sculptures as three-dimensional illustrations of paintings and to transpose their interpretation within the field of truth as passe-partout: “These works and others inspired by the paintings of the Old Masters still remain largely misinterpreted as transpositions, rather than being correctly seen as sculptural analogies.”[13]

For William Packer, Caro’s approach to Old Master paintings is an attempt at unveiling the originals’ structure and meanings to contemporary viewers who may no longer discover the innovative dimension and the subtle significations of artworks that have already become canonical. According to him, Caro reflects the reality of pictorial representation by finding abstract equivalents to their signifiers and more accessible denotations for their signifieds, as he aims “to reveal the bones and sinews of these great works from which they derive their life and strength” by giving volume to flat surfaces and ensuring that “each element takes its proper place, plays its proper role.”[14] Packer assigns to the sculpture the function of parole, as a splintered image of the original langue of the painting, exhibited by Manet in the Salon des refusés in 1863. Thus, the meaning of Déjeuner sur l’herbe II is conveyed solely by its reference to the painting, which is presumed to include the code for its own understanding. Caro’s source sculptures are neither parodical pastiches nor fully-fledged representations of pictorial forms that undergo abstract and three-dimensional transformations. In Déjeuner sur l’herbe II, what is elided from and what is added to Manet’s painting are not only elements of style, form, or medium. Caro’s sculpture could be instead described as an impression of the canonical work of modernism viewed from within the contemporary context. In an interview with Ann Hindry who outlined the formal correlations that exist between Manet’s modernist landmark and Déjeuner sur l’herbe II, Caro concluded, “for me, it’s the basic general feeling that the painting gives, nothing specific but that hint.”[15] In the same context, Caro pointed out the fact that he did not want his sculpture to be an “illustration” of the Old Master painting.

Some critics have been intent on delineating source sculptures’ similarities with the 19th century painting and their formal differences, being reluctant to take note of the loose correlations that are at work in Caro’s sculpture. Phyllis Tuchman saw his engagement with pictorial landmarks in the 80s mainly as a strategy aimed at securing a position for himself in the art historical hierarchy. In “Sculpting Space,” she firmly stated that, “while no one has ever called Caro an appropriationist that is exactly what he was being when he based the formal language of several grand pieces on Old Master paintings.”[16]On the other hand, Tim Marlow argued that Caro has actually “never sought to paraphrase.”[17] What he offers the viewer of his work as a sign of the pictorial source is an incomplete series of parameters of Manet’s painting and a linguistic referent in the title to which one inevitably clings in order to step beyond the abstract configuration and discover links with a prior art historical narrative.

Likewise, interpretations of Déjeuner sur l’herbe II founded on truth as adequation and truth as adaptation fail to take into account the free correspondences between the pictorial source and the sculpture. In spite of the fact that she concedes to the contemporary nature and concept of the sculpture, Ann Hindry supports the idea that Caro “remains true to his source”[18] as if it were a paragon whose formal characteristics are not to be questioned or modified.  By the same token, Kenneth Baker highlights the perceptual game entailed by the viewer’s recognition of references to Manet’s painting, but concludes that Caro’s merit resides above all in the abstraction of forms and in the “power of tangible presence denied to the ingredients of a picture, no matter what the conventions that support it or that it overturns.”[19] Both readings are grounded in the critics’ belief in a one-sided dialogue between the two works.  For those relying on truth as adequation, it is the signification of the work that is the focus of Caro’s re-framing; for those defending the idea of truth as sculpturality or picturality, it is the form of the work re-modeled in a different medium that is the main object of transformation.

In an attempt at finding a common denominator for Caro’s sculptures, Peter Fuller affirmed that “Caro’s sculptures tend to work from a single point perspective,”[20] while David Cohen maintained that Caro expresses his allegiance to the modernist canon by stressing “the physicality of sculpture, its working ‘in the round’- abolishing any sense of single-point perspective.”[21] The reading of Déjeuner sur l’herbe II from the perspective of truth as sculpturality would necessarily entail a special emphasis on the vision offered by the tactile quality of the three-dimensional object, which supplements the flatness of the pictorial representation. This may also be the result of the fact that Manet’s painting became notorious at the time of its exhibition in 1863 not only on account of its morally objectionable representation, but also on account of the artist’s manifest disregard for single point perspective.[22] Although he decided to replace the plinth with the table, which is usually placed below eye level, Caro maintains that for him the optic is more important than the haptic, and he strongly opposes the idea of direct contact between viewer and artwork. Throughout his career, Caro has manifested no radical attachment to three dimensional or to two dimensional forms in spite of critics’ attempts at categorizing his works in this way. As he likes to maintain, his sculptures are created on the edge between different mediums.[23] In Déjeuner sur l’herbe II, Caro adroitly combines flat surfaces with concave and convex forms. The slightly curved shape that corresponds to the contours of the second woman bather is mirrored by the almost flat, circular shape that extends within the viewer’s space; deflated surfaces are never completely planar, just as the volumetric body of the foreground female figure is partially devoid of its voluptuous presence as it is hollowed out to suggest a state of utter bohemian detachment. The formalist reading of Caro’s sculpture in terms of medium-specificity is partly engendered by his well-known friendship and collaboration with Clement Greenberg, the most influential American critic of abstract art, who strongly believed that each art medium (beginning with modernism) sharpens the specificity of its formal characteristics in order to retain its autonomous status. Caro shares Greenberg’s views on the primarily optical dimension of sculpture, but challenges his opinion that sculpture guards its own specificity by remaining “tied inexorably to the third dimension” and by being “inherently less illusionistic.”[24] Déjeuner sur l’herbe II has a chimerical effect through the bridges it builds across time and through the playful depth it establishes as it reinterprets perspectival representation within the mode of abstraction. Distant figures become increasingly abstract as they transform into more clear-cut geometrically-shaped forms, although they maintain their size and close interrelations with the rest of the composition. Seeking to elucidate such problematics concerning the interpretation of Déjeuner sur l’herbe II starting from characteristics inherent to the sculptural medium, Caro commented, “there was never any question of trying to make three-dimensional painting. This might be more what Clem [Greenberg] had in mind for the purity of means.”[25] The sculptor’s lack of interest in the integrity of the sculptural qualities of his art object is also denoted by the fact that he had no particular requirements regarding the installation of Déjeuner sur l’herbe II inside the gallery space. Its positioning in gallery corners was favored due to its L-shaped table, ultimately emphasizing its picturality because visitors could not observe it in the round.

Caro’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe II is both a reading of Manet’s painting and a new writing; it is a “remedy” as it is a quotation and it is a “poison” as it imposes its own distinct representation. This latter may be a portrayal of the image of Manet in the modernist gallery - as has been the case in its juxtaposition to the source painting in the Orsay exhibition - a representation of a painting without a frame, or even a mirroring of a real contemporary image which is reminiscent of the representation proposed by the 19th century painter. Déjeuner sur l’herbe II displaces the fixity of the logos and re-tells its story while seeking its own validity, setting forth its own subjectivized truth. Its connotation emerges from the operational realm of the “pharmakon” conceptualized by Jacques Derrida as being “within the order of the pure signifier, which no reality, no absolutely external reference, no transcendental signified, can come to limit, bound or control.”[26] The abstract sculpture could be regarded as a supplement, both a substitution and an addition. Discussing his forays into the pictorial canon, Caro claims that there are two ways in which he approaches the signifiers of Old Master paintings: “far away from the subject, the way I did in Déjeuner sur l’herbe II[27] or closer to the morphology of the original coordinates, as in his re-contextualizations of Van Gogh’s Chair in late 1980s. If we try to match elements of source sculptures that depart from formal relationships with paintings against the corresponding pictorial forms that inspired them, the playful impact of the loose connections established between the two is annihilated. For Tim Hilton, who favors the interpretation of Caro’s Déjeuner in terms of the indefinite links to the Impressionist source it indirectly quotes, the sculptor’s most innovative relationship with pictorial tradition is “most potent when it is least recognizable,”[28] functioning on the verge between the momentary act of identification of the 19th century artwork and the realization that the parallelism is only illusory.

Caro neither looks down upon the canon, nor relies upon it blindly; his sculpture is an adroit incursion within the series of Déjeuners to which it simultaneously attaches and adds meaning. Déjeuner sur l’herbe II exists as both parergon and ergon. It is impossible to completely separate it from the source painting, yet it is also impossible to analyze it only in connection with its allusion to it. Caro’s decentralization of meaning extends beyond the formal characteristics of Manet’s painting. His sculpture is part of a series just as much as the original canonical painting was part of one. Déjeuner sur l’herbe I (1989) has been recognized by critics as a sculptural framing of Monet’s composition (1865), which was at the time of its creation a challenge to Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) due to its more conventional approach to its thematics. In order to subvert the canon, Caro referred initially to the lesser known paragon, only to then turn his attention to Manet’s composition, which has become an auratic construct of 19th century painting. Through this reversal of chronology, he actually hints at the fact that Manet’s painting itself is not a primary model in the series of “Déjeuners sur l’herbe.” In picking the déjeuner as a theme, Caro reiterates the gesture of Manet who “had developed an interest in appropriating motifs from his predecessors’ pictures for use in his own.”[29] Caro’s sculpture is palimpsestic, but it is not parodic, as that of Manet who rebels against formalist issues and moral conventions of the 19th century.[30]

The source for the theme of the 1863 painting was partially derived from Titian’s Fête champêtre, while that composition was inspired by Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving The Judgment of Paris, after a drawing of Raphael, which drew upon a Roman sarcophagus that is now found in the Villa Medici in Rome. The precise origin of the composition is irretrievable, as it might have been reiterated at the level of other ancient motifs. Manet’s painting itself is therefore not logos, but logoi; it is a parergon that is transformed into a paragon, thus becoming the originator of an extensive series of representations.[31] The theme and the very representation of it are reiterated as a result of the ambiguity of the text that they set forth. The signification seems to be perpetually re-constructed as numerous artists have engaged in re-contextualizing its signifiers through diverse media and styles of representation, in this way dissecting the canon and defying the traditional notion of authorship. Gradually, the paragon has become estranged, being no longer identified uniquely with one artwork. Caro actually appropriates the entire paradigm of déjeuners sur l’herbe and builds upon its openness, especially as the title omits the name of the Old Master. His sculpture and Manet’s painting are neither uniquely “adherent beauties” juxtaposed to the chain of thematic representations, nor entirely “free beauties.”[32] Both of them are “hallucinogenic,”[33] functioning as supplements. They are additions to previous incomplete framings without being themselves complete.  The déjeuner theme is perceived through a series of subversive mirrors that reflect and distort at the same time because, as Derrida maintains, “iterability alters.”[34] Caro’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe II becomes contingent upon future interpretations of representations on the same theme. It turns into a trace even for subsequent viewings of the 1863 painting.

Through his repeated reference to recurrent pictorial themes, Caro gets involved in art historical discourse. While describing the context in which he created his variations on The Descent from the Cross by identifying correspondences between Rubens’ and Rembrandt’s pictorial representations of it, Caro rhetorically exclaimed “Why leave it to the art historians to discover these things? Let’s be frank about their ancestry.”[35] Nonetheless, he immediately admitted that this idea might have been a mistake on his part, probably because he had thus reduced the loose suggestiveness of his sculptures’ syntax by indicating the precise pictorial sources at which he was hinting. 

Viewers who come in contact with Caro’s sculpture in the absence of Manet’s painting have to re-create subjective mental projections of the original, which are never exact or complete representations of it, but whose subjectivized significations are as important as those of the fixed “text” stored in the archive. The trace of Manet’s painting virtually accompanies Caro’s work; it “belongs without belonging,”[36] being at the same time inside and outside the work. The real and the virtual dimensions intersect and meaning is rendered unstable. While teaching at St. Martin’s School of Art (1953-1979), Caro asked his students to study the model and then draw it from memory.[37] He would also invite the viewers of Déjeuner sur l’herbe II to bring his sculpture and other portrayals of the déjeuner theme together at an imaginary level.

From the point of view of the passe-partout, or the ambivalent restitution of truth, Caro’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe II is placed inbetween absences and presences of form and content; it recalls the 1863 version of the theme, but it does not quote it; simultaneously, it borrows and it lends as parergon, ergon and potential future paragon. As Adrian Searle points out, “Caro at his best is all about openness and closure”[38] and Déjeuner sur l’herbe II is not an exception to the rule. The “palimpsest” approach it exhibits fluctuates from the initial closure of analysis -provided by the inevitable reference to Manet- to the openness of the free play of signifiers. For Caro, just as for the viewer, there is no fixed langue; perception and remembrance of an original signifier imply a creative departure from it, accompanied by a process of resignification. Ellipsis stands at the core of his approach to Great Masters’ paintings. The human figures are associated with the characters in Manet’s painting only as a result of their location in the composition. As they are all denuded of specific personification, as far as gender and cultural specificity are concerned, they are shadows of the signifiers and signifieds of the 1863 painting. Presumably, the woman still maintains the focus of the image, as her body is less fragmented than that of the other corporal silhouettes and she replicates (to a certain extent) the posture of the female figure in Manet’s painting. Caro’s female figure appears relaxed, just as a model that poses without mimicking the stereotypical seductive gesture of holding her hand under her chin and without faking a sudden turn of her head. The convoluted lines of the female body are straightened and voluptuousness subsists merely at the level of viewers’ subjective projections. The basket filled with fruits, which could have been interpreted as a symbol of fertility and abundance, stands void, like the concave torso of the woman and the tray-like shape that offers itself bare to the viewer, like a paradigm that needs to be filled with meaning. As David Cohen suggests the identification of  abstract forms with elements in Manet’s painting can be only tentative, “as the eye adjusts to Caro’s sculptural vision, some shapes begin to read as touching, if not convincing, renderings of the voluptuous turn of a thigh or prop of an elbow. But the reading remains highly selective and subjective. It is an account of an energy in the original quite remote from that in the particulars.”[39]

Truth as passe-partout is located neither uniquely in the abstracted space of Caro’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe II nor within Manet’s painting whose trace is perpetuated from one representation to another, but in the temporal and spatial distance that separates them. It has multiple facets and its traits subsist at the level of the entire series of framings of “the déjeuner” beyond the borders of reality and picturality. The re-contextualized perspective upon the bohemian theme betrays changes in contemporary perceptions and dislocates the canonized interpretation of the paragon. Caro does not cite Manet’s name, yet he manages to evoke his presence in the absence of a precise quotation. He projects a mental perception of the painting triggered by open-ended sculptural forms. In the process, his work engages the viewer in an exercise of imagination and interpretation that destabilizes and opens out singular interpretations, as it transgresses frames, tables, museum walls, and canonical investigations for an ultimate truth.




an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, December 2006, ISSN 1552-5112



[1] Peter Fuller. “Anthony Caro. London, Waddington Gallery & Knoedler Gallery,” The Burlington Magazine, 128, No. 1005 (December, 1986) p. 917

[2] Anthony Caro, “Baberton Notebook: 1979-80” in Ian Barker Ed.  Anthony Caro: Quest for the New Sculpture (Hampshire: Lund Humphries, 2004) p. 253

[3] The Artist’s Eye installation included, among others, Cezanne’s Rocky Landscape at Aix (1887), Manet, Portrait of Eva Gonzales (1870), Monet’s Trouville Beach (1870), Bellini’s The Madonna of the Meadow (1516), Titian, Noli Me Tangere (1511-2), Antonello da Messina, Crucifixion (1475).

[4] Caro in Russell, 1977

[5] Though not directly referential of their canonical origin, The Yellow Pieces (1986/87) were inspired by Hoffman’s still-lives and The Night Movements (1987/90) were inspired by Courbet’s tree landscapes. 

[6] See Descent from the Cross I. After Rubens (1987-1988), Descent from the Cross II. After Rembrandt (1988-1989), Descent from the Cross III. After Rembrandt (1989-1990) or Van Gogh Chair V (1997).

[7] Lisa Lyons. Interview with Anthony Caro. Museum of Modern Art: New York, 1975. All further references to Caro’s discussion with Lisa Lyons will be made to this interview.

[8] Richard Rogers Ed., Aspects of Anthony Caro, Exh. cat. (London: Annely Juda Fine Art, 1989) p. 37

[9] Tim Hilton. “Soul in the Iron”, Guardian (June 27, 1990)

[10] Ann Hindry. “Sculpture on the Edge”, Correspondances – Anthony Caro/Edouard Manet, Annie Dufour Ed.(Paris: Musée d’Orsay, Editions Hazan, 2005) p. 10. All further references to this book will be made to this edition.

[11] Ortega y Gasset. Phenomenology and Art (Mew York: Norton & Company, 1975) p. 123

[12] Derrida Jacques, The Truth in Painting (Chicago: University Press, 1987) pp. 6-7

[13] Barker (2004, 13)

[14] William Packer, “Classical Austerity Meets Romance”,  Financial Times (March 3, 1998) p. 20

[15] Ann Hindry, “Interview with Anthony Caro”,  Annie Dufour Ed. (2005, 31)

[16] Phyllis Tuchman, “Sculpting Space”, Sculpture Magazine, Issue 16 (October 1997) p.22

[17] Tim Marlow in Barker (2004, 286)

[18] Ann Hindry in Annie Dufour Ed. (2005, 22)

[19] Kenneth Baker, “Lunch Is on the Table”, ARTnews, Volume 104, No. 7 (Summer 2005) p.133

[20] Fuller (1986, 918)

[21] David Cohen, “The Incredible Lightness of Tradition”, Independent Saturday Magazine (February 21, 1998) p.32

[22] See Alan Krell, “Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refuses: A Re-Appraisal”, The Art Bulletin. Vol. 65, No. 2 (June, 1983),  pp. 316-320

[23] In 1991, Caro noted “I think that the edges of subjects are interesting: where sculpture meets drawing, where sculpture meets architecture – these are borderlines which invite exploration.” See ‘Architecture of Sculpture’, Blueprint, no.78 (June 1991) p.36.

[24] Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture. Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972) p. 142/3

[25] Anthony Caro in Ann Hindry, “Interview with Anthony Caro,” Annie Dufour Ed. (2005, 28)

[26] Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (Chicago: Chicago University, 1981) p. 89

[27] Anthony Caro in Ann Hindry, “Interview with Anthony Caro,”  Annie Dufour Ed. (2005, 30)

[28] Tim Hilton, “Arts Exhibition: Lunchtime on the Grass with Caro”, The Independent, (March 8, 1998) p. 22.

[29] Tucker (1998, 14)

[30] As Mareia Pointon observes, Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe “does not merely borrow from the great Renaissance masters- it parodies them. It is to all intents and purposes a history painting, albeit one with an ironic relation to tradition” See Tucker Ed (1998, 159)

[31] In the 60’s, Picasso made 27 paintings after Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Alain Jacquet framed a representation of it as screen-print on canvas in 1964. In 1994, Seward Johnson Jr. created a three-dimensional representation of Manet’s painting fabricated in bronze, with a painted finish that was presented in outdoor settings. In 2002, Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubosarsky created a painting focused on Manet’s theme, yet based on various 19th century styles.

[32] In The Truth in Painting, Jacques Derrida deconstructs Kant’s theorization of binary oppositions between “adherent beauty,” which refers to a preceding class in the absence of which the object cannot be fully defined, and “free beauty,” which is self-referential, as the object that typifies it does not serve an exterior end. The parergon is defined by ambivalent characteristics, given its function as a “supplément” that denotes absences and presences simultaneously; it is neither simply adherent nor completely independent.

[33] Derrida (1987, 273)

[34] Jacques Derrida, “Ltd. Inc. abc....”, Limited Inc. Gerald Graff Ed. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1977) p. 62

[35] Anthony Caro in Ann Hindry, “Interview with Anthony Caro”,  Annie Dufour Ed. (2005, 34)

[36] Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) p. 208

[37] Paul Moorehouse Ed.,  Anthony Caro (London: Tate Publishing, 2005)  p.11

[38] Adrian Searle. “The Big Chill”, The Guardian (January 25, 2005)

[39] David Cohen, “Weight and Pressure; Tony Caro and the Old Masters”, The Independent, February 21, 1998.