Established in 2013, the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle – a partnership between Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), The Hepworth Wakefield (THW) and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds – has to date functioned mainly as a marketing tie-up between venues which otherwise continued to do their own thing.
However, with the staging of an epic-scale retrospective of Anthony Caro's work across the YSP and Hepworth sites this summer, the concept has taken on a whole new dimension and, judging by the universally enthusiastic response from national media critics, has cemented Yorkshire's place as the current epicentre of all things sculptural.
Caro in Yorkshire, which runs until 1 November, takes as its starting point his statements that “sculpture hovers between painting and architecture” and that “sculpture and architecture may be similarly nourished by one another”. Caro (1924–2013) even coined a word for it: 'sculpitecture'.
The painting side of the equation is considered in the YSP's Longside gallery, where early sketches and works on canvas lead to simple steel sculptures in primary colours – pieces such as 1964's First National suggesting a painting morphing into a three-dimensional object, stepping off the canvas and on to the floor (Caro being one of the first sculptors to eschew the use of plinths for his works).
This process reaches its zenith down by the YSP lakeside, where three imposing steel constructions, Dream City, Forum and the monumental-in-every-respect five-part Promenade, are set against a backdrop of Bretton Hall.
The first two – the curvaceous Dream City and angular Forum – are purely architectural in conception and realisation, while Promenade, to this observer's eye, betrays a much greater breadth of influences in its bold yet complex shapes and sheer scale.
Caro, apparently, worried whether YSP was the right place for his sculptures – but, come on, there’s really no other setting could show off something like Promenade to such tremendous effect.
Meanwhile, the airy white galleries at THW show how Caro worked right across the size range, from a glass cabinet of dolls house-proportioned miniatures to pieces which would hardly look out of scale on the YSP's lawns.
Here, though, many of the works point to a connection with industry and machinery as much as architecture: the rusted bare metal construction Morning Shadow suggests the
flick of a secret switch would set it rumbling and rattling and spitting out three-sixteenths Whitworth bolts, while Terminus, a mash-up of steel, wood and perspex created by Caro in the final year of his life, might have been salvaged from the rubble of a derelict factory.
As for The Eye Knows, is it a bath? A central heating boiler? A musical instrument? The Window, meanwhile, surely was once part of a
walkway above a production line…
It's not all madcap machinery and bare metal, though, as the beautifully-polished oak Child's Tower Room and a selection of gold jewellery demonstrates.
Likewise, the colourfully-enamelled Table Piece series, which tumbles in trademark Caro style over the edges of an industrial-scale plinth, an absurdist workbench on which they might be the tools or they might be the products.
In summary, then, the materials may often be the antithesis of subtle, the constructions brutalist and the finishes crude but the sum of these parts – both individually and as a collection – is something that's full of vigour and (a word not often associated with Caro) a lot of fun. All in all, with 100-plus examples of Caro's creations on show, it's truly a triangular triumph.
That's our view, of course – and if you think we're letting local bias get in the way of objectivity, consider these responses from the London-based critics.
“If you want to see great sculpture, go to Yorkshire.” – Mark Hudson, Daily Telegraph (we're here already, Mark!)
“Larger and more comprehensive than even the Tate Britain Caro retrospective of 2005 … sculpture that can take your breath away.” Adrian Searle, The Guardian
“A rich, resonant and joyous journey of discovery.” – Karen Wright, The Independent
“I used to find Anthony Caro a bit austere. This exhibition changed my mind.” – William Cook, BBC
There's a free bus running between the two sites, also connecting with trains at Wakefield Westgate station, each weekend until the end of the show.