11503 - 20170413 - Exhibition presents rare coloured sculptures that represent radical moments in Tony Cragg's practice - London - 01.03.2017-13.04.2017

Tony Cragg, Red Square, 2007. Bronze, 76 x 80 x 66. Photo: Ellen Page Wilson.
Holtermann Fine Art and Dutko Gallery presenting ‘Tony Cragg: Primary Colours’, an exhibition of rare coloured sculptures by Tony Cragg. The exhibition showcases a carefully curated ensemble of secondary market works that represent two radical moments in Cragg’s practice: his early plastic works and his first coloured bronze forms. Over several decades, Holtermann Fine Art has actively supported Tony Cragg and his market, especially through the organisation of major museum exhibitions. This collaboration with Dutko Gallery, planned over the past two years, is based on a long-standing friendship and represents for each art dealer an opportunity to highlight their shared interests. ‘Primary Colours’ coincides with a major retrospective of Tony Cragg’s work at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (4 March, 2017 – 3 September 2017). Holtermann Fine Art is a supporter of this show.

The striking blue, yellow and red hues of the three bronze sculptures in ‘Primary Colours’ testify to the artist’s bold approach to colour in sculpture and demonstrate his unrivalled skill in using it. These works from his important Early Forms series are among the first in which Cragg adds the new element of colour to cast bronze. Applying colours to bronze, rather than traditional patinas, is a complex technological feat that the artist achieved through borrowing techniques from the German car industry, which Cragg, who is based in Germany and intensely interested in science, adapted for his own artistic ends.

A further highlight in the show is ‘Looking at Sculpture’ (1980), a seminal plastic wall piece that Cragg considers one of the finest from the period. A representation of the artist himself looking at ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women’, a 16th-century sculpture by Giambologna, the work attests to Cragg’s early use of colour. ‘Looking at Sculpture’ is assembled from bright plastic fragments collected along the banks of the Rhine. Inspired by Arte Povera, Cragg transformed this found detritus into a large, collage-like composition to be hung on a wall. For Cragg, man-made objects and materials are vital ingredients and underlying his practice is the idea that the utilitarian design of everyday objects restricts the potential inherent in any material. By using plastic objects to create new artistic forms, Cragg makes us look again at this mundane, ubiquitous and disposable material as it is appropriated into a dynamic and playful art-work.

One of the most prominent British contemporary sculptors, Tony Cragg (b.1949) began working in the early 1970s and was one of the early proponents of Land Art. His interest in science and natural history, as well as his early experience working in a scientific laboratory, gave birth to an artistic practice that constantly questions the boundaries of materials and forms and expands the visual language of contemporary sculpture.

Cragg’s practice involves working in series. The bronze sculptures presented in this exhibition are part of Cragg’s renowned and longest-running series of cast bronzes entitled Early Forms and versions of these were exhibited as a group in Cragg’s recent retrospective at the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, Germany, 2016. Started in the late 1980s, this body of work develops out of the forms of vessels, from chemical containers or ancient flasks to jam jars, test-tubes and detergent bottles. As Cragg points out, ‘Works from the Early Forms group are always to do with vessels transforming and mutating into one another in space.’

Cragg's ongoing interest in vessels emerges both from their formal qualities and their historical and metaphorical significance. As illustrated by the title Early Forms, vessels are among the earliest forms of man-made objects. In addition to the civilizing effect the invention of containers has had on human existence, vessels and flasks were key in Cragg’s early laboratory experience. As in the magical play with materials in alchemy Cragg’s practice explores the metamorphosis of forms.

Over the years, the shapes of the Early Forms sculptures have evolved from the simple melding of one vessel into another, to more complex, elastic formations in which the original object is completely transformed, an evolution that is particularly striking in the three bronze sculptures presented in this exhibition. In McCormack (2007), the blue vessel’s playful form is like three-dimensional calligraphy. In the yellow-painted bronze Declination (2003), a title deriving from an astronomical term related to the sun, all that remains is the seam that links one form to the other. The voluptuous Red Square (2007) was conceived at the time of Cragg’s exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow in 2005. The slit that runs along the edges of the sculptures gives a glimpse into the internal space and each work’s inner structure. Cragg speaks of his enduring interest in the inner life of things, matter and human thought and emotions and invites the viewer to consider the same.

As curator Patrick Elliott wrote in his catalogue essay for Cragg’s exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh (2011): the Early Forms sculptures explore both the metamorphosis of form and the space around it:

…they are about the gap between things. In the drive towards economy and mass production, industry has created a limited range of formatted goods, and ignored all those forms which do not serve the purpose of economy or functionality. Cragg addresses the vast terrain of potential forms that lie between these formatted goods. If, at first glance, Cragg’s work over the years seems to have shifted in style and approach, it is in fact united and grounded in this philosophical starting point.