"It's a Mutilated Work of Mine": Anthony Caro Disowns Sculpture Heading to Auction at Bonhams

"It's a Mutilated Work of Mine": Anthony Caro Disowns Sculpture Heading to Auction at Bonhams

When "Lagoon," a monumental steel sculpture by Anthony Caro, goes under the hammer during Bonhams London's "20th Century British Art" sale today, it will be expressly against the wishes of the artist. The artist, in fact, has disowned the 1976/77 piece and demanded that it be removed from the auction, where it is estimated to sell for between £100,000 and £150,000. "It's a mutilated work of mine," Caro told ARTINFO UK.

Created to sit directly on the floor — in the 86-year-old sculptor's signature gesture of breaking away from the plinth, removing the mediation between his work and the viewer — "Lagoon" had metal feet welded onto its base after being purchased by the Peterborough Sculpture Trust in 1984. Despite being contacted by the artist through his representative, Bonhams makes no mention of this addition in the piece's catalogue entry or in the condition report accessed by ARTINFO UK, which merely records "paint losses."


"In the catalogue it goes down as my work, which it is not," Caro said. "It's like adding a tail onto an animal painted by Picasso. It's ridiculous."


In a letter to Caro, Bonhams argues that the additions have no impact "on the artistic integrity of the sculpture," and that "they are quite incapable of making the piece no longer your work." The auction house also claims that the feet were added to install the piece and that this was done under the artist's supervision — which Caro denies. "I've never been to Peterborough in my life, that I know," he said.


Contacted by ARTINFO UK, Bonhams states that "the work which was commissioned to stand outside has legs for support." But Caro says that this piece wasn't a commission but was purchased through his dealer. A photograph published in a 1987 Peterborough Sculpture Trust catalogue shows the piece installed as intended on a flat brick patio, with no feet. "Lagoon" was later installed in a water setting without the artist's permission, and then vandalized.

"During its long period of exposure to the elements," Bonhams said, "the sculpture has become weathered and at some time was unfortunately spray painted in some areas by vandals. The spray paint has been removed with only minor traces remaining. Sir Anthony contends that the legs on which the sculpture stands are not his work although that is not the recollection of the Trust's staff who dealt with the installation of the piece on site." There is no law in the U.K. preventing collectors from altering or destroying artworks they own.

"It's a very bad thing for artists to know that the work can be destroyed or changed and that they have no recourse," Caro said. "They should be able to say: look, this is not my work."