Sculptor Caro says crisis may curb "stupid" art prices

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - “Stupid” prices for art could be brought down to earth as the global economic slump forces even the wealthy to tighten their purse-strings, sculptor Anthony Caro said.

Sculptor Anthony Caro attends the opening of a new steel sculpture exhibition in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Robin Emmott

Caro, one of the biggest living names in sculpture and famous for revolutionizing the art form in the 1960s, said sky-high prices have been a distraction for young artists, some of whom are more concerned about getting rich than making lasting and meaningful work.

The financial crisis could slam the brakes on a trend of recent years where some people view artworks as mere investments, like stocks, Caro told Reuters this week.

“Because of this crisis, something will change in art and there may be a rethinking of value,” Caro, 84, said in an interview at a new sculpture exhibition that includes his work in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey.

“Some art has got some stupid, outrageous values and it is very sad that money has become a very important part of the art world,” said Caro, who broke with tradition to work with brightly painted steel and hardboard resting directly on the floor.

The worst recession in Europe and the United States since World War Two has begun to push down contemporary art values at auction after a long run of dizzy gains until late last year.

In 2007 an abstract canvas valued at $40 million (27.7 million pounds) by 1950s artist Mark Rothko sold at auction for a heady $72.8 million.

Buyers are also losing sight of quality as artworks become commodities, according to Caro’s disciple Tim Scott, another British sculptor showing work at the Monterrey exhibition that organizers hope to take to a U.S. museum later this year.

“As soon as an artist becomes well known, the name is the thing and you are not buying what you are looking at, you are buying the name, irrespective of quality,” Scott said.

Caro, whose father wanted him to be a stockbroker, said art should be more about pleasure and beauty than profits.

“In my time art was never about money. I am not a millionaire. I have tried to make good art. Now young artists learn to deal with art like stocks and shares,” he said.

One of Caro’s best-known works is his 1962 sculpture “Early One Morning”, an airy arrangement of red-painted metal planes and lines that marked a shift in sculpture at the time from a mainly figurative form to a new abstract direction.

“Art can refresh the spirit and help people. If it is good art, it has an effect,” said Caro, who despite a knighthood and a career of more than 50 years, has no plans to retire. “I don’t think about mortality, I am young still,” he said.

His latest major work is the 2008 “Chapel of Light” where he used steel, wood and terracotta to restore parts of a 12th century church in northern France damaged in World War Two.