Sculpture: Out of the darkness came the light: Anthony Caro was Henry Moore's assistant. But is he also his rival? Two new books suggest we should look again at their relationship

A COUPLE of new books commemorate exhibitions abroad by two major British sculptors, and I think these publications are significant. David Cohen's Moore in the Bagatelle Gardens is about the show of Henry Moore's late monumental bronzes in Paris last year. Caro at the Trajan Markets, by Giovanni Carandente, records the retrospective installed last year at a dramatic site in Rome. Identical in format and beautifully produced (Lund Humphries, pounds 37.50 each), the books show how both men have filled public places with modern sculpture. There are obviously lessons here, but I was more interested in the way that the two artists suddenly look like rivals.

It wasn't a personal rivalry, more a conflict between differing attitudes to art. We think of Anthony Caro as Moore's successor, and chronologically this must be so. None the less their careers ran in parallel for some time. The younger sculptor was an assistant to Moore in the Fifties. But then Caro was an independent and successful artist from about 1960 onwards. Moore died in 1986, so there were at least 20 years when their production overlapped and when both men, arguably, were at the height of their achievement. I suspect that future generations will see them as antithetical, and it's easy to see that their minds are of different patterns. These patterns are more important than their ages and circumstances.

Moore was a monumental sculptor; Caro sought ways to be free from the monument. Moore's work needs a pedestal; Caro abandoned the help of any kind of stand. The older man was a pastoral artist; the younger was, and still is, urban. Moore's loyalties were with Europe; Caro's with America. For Moore, drawing was an essential part of his sculptural work; Caro has never drawn for a sculpture in his life. One is a conservative artist, traditional in outlook. The other is a radical, instinctively anti-academic. Moore is solemn; Caro can burst into gaiety. The older sculptor was wedded to the figure; while to this day Caro tries to become even more abstract.

This list could go on. Moore thought Stonehenge an admirable place and did gloomy drawings of its lumps of stone. I was delighted recently to read Caro's opinion that Stonehenge was all plonked down without any visual sense and that aesthetically it cannot begin to compare with, say, Wells Cathedral. Caro is a true highbrow, always challenging for excellence, and I wish that more of his table talk had been published. The lecture format doesn't suit him. A disappointment of Carandente's book is that it doesn't reproduce Caro's comments printed in the Italian version of the show's catalogue. But here is a unique photographic record of an exhibition in a space that might easily have overcome the art.

The book suggests that Caro's sculptures might be placed in a variety of situations without losing strength. It was wrong to imagine they belonged only to the neutral space of the late modern art gallery. Even the riskily elongated Early One Morning holds its own against the crumbling brickwork of the Trajan Markets. But Caro will still be better in strong daylight. I bet the sculptures were at their best at noon. Here's another contrast with Moore, whose works really do look well in parkland or semi-formal gardens and are enhanced when light is subdued, at dawn or summer dusk.

That's because Moore, especially in his larger pieces, depends to such a degree on chiaroscuro. Gradated modelling from dark to light, so familiar in painting, has a role in Moore's art without parallel in any other modern sculptor. The famous holes that opened an interior part of his sculpture were also a device that increased the effects of chiaroscuro, with its suggestion of natural but also mysterious forms. Hence soft and creeping light at either end of the day helps Moore's careful roundnesses. The photos in Cohen's book are sensitive to this and use further special effects caused by mist and enshrouding trees.

The opposite of Moore's chiaroscuro can be found in Caro's totally open structures and the artificial, high-keyed colour with which he initially painted his pieces. In later years he has looked for more weight, making thicker and denser use of metal, and now he seldom paints a sculpture. I think that many of his later works are superior to the pieces that made him famous in the Sixties. On the other hand there are signs that when Caro comes closer to Moore's kind of expression he is most likely to fail. The temperamental divisions between the artists are crucial. They prohibit Caro from approaching his former employer without losing his own artistic personality.

Caro is a great and singular artist, but still an unabashed admirer of certain other sculptors. Paradoxically, he first became his own man when he was most impressed by David Smith. He has recently made pieces that show an appreciation of Eduardo Chillida. One might have thought that Caro in his latest phase could produce some of the best public sculpture of our time, and do so with Chillida or Smith at the back of his mind rather than the subterranean and unspoken approach to Moore that we saw and lamented in his 'sculpitechture' at the Tate a couple of years ago. Personally I would grant him the freedom of Chamberlain Square in Birmingham. Readers of this column may think that I have a partiality for this queen of British cities. True; but, that aside, Chamberlain Square is a thrilling space for a modern urban sculptor. My conclusion from the Trajan Markets book is that some British city ought to commission Caro right now. Birmingham would be best, then Edinburgh. Some tough and proud place that still hasn't succumbed to the facile dinkiness of pedestrianised shopping streets. -

(Photograph omitted)