Art in Dialogue: Duccio and Caro

The fascinating thing about history is its ability to open up an impossible door to the past, allowing us to engage, assess and experience a time that no longer exists. Time travel, at least backwards, does exist, albeit without the fancy gadgetry we associate with this fanciful dream.
Through the survival of records and artefacts, diary entries, pictures and objects and many, similar and associated materials, not only can we delve into what are, in effect, different worlds, we can enter into conversation with individuals from a former time. It’s perceived to be one-way, but, metaphysically, the exchange is reciprocal.
Interested in this idea as a framework for a, how can we put it, a “time indifferent” exhibition, the National Gallery has conceived of a new show called Art in Dialogue: Duccio | Caro. Two works of art by the aforementioned artists, 700 years apart in execution, have been gathered. It is rather strange and exciting how that can happen.
On the one hand we have The Annunciation by the Sienese painter Duccio and, on the other, we have Duccio Variations No.3, by the late British sculptor Anthony Caro. Both are equally outstanding and, like introducing two geniuses for the same time, this presentation has a powerful air about it.
“This is a creative dialogue, and each work of art changes our experience of the other,” the gallery stated. “These two works have never been seen together before. This display will be on show during the second anniversary of Caro’s death and has the full support of his family. It was a project close to the heart of Caro’s wife, the painter Sheila Girling, who died earlier this year.”
There is a direct link between the two works, made evident, in part, by the title of Caro’s sculpture. In 1999, the National Gallery commissioned the sculptor to respond to one of its paintings in its collection for an exhibition titled Encounters: New Art from Old. Along with 23 other contemporary artists, Caro responded with a multifaceted work that does very well to extend its modernist language back in time. In some ways, there’s a feeling the work could have, radically so, of course, been made in the fourteenth century.
“Juxtaposed together for the first time, the two works are in active dialogue with each other,” the gallery elaborated. “Both play with space, movement, and architecture. They challenge the viewer and invite exploration. While Caro’s sculpture functions as a gateway to re-examining Duccio in a new light, Duccio’s Annunciation was a starting point for something new and yet recognisably Caro.”
There is a lot to be gained from this stripped down exhibition. How wonderful it is to find new insight, new frames of reference from what is a very simple act – physically arranging two works of art. They may differ in age and form and seem alien in aesthetic, but, on a closer inspection, you can see that one leads into the other and vice-versa, as if they share a deeper bond, a common ancestry of sorts. Quite marvellous, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Art in Dialogue: Duccio | Caro at the National Gallery in London runs until November 18th, 2015.
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