Tony Cragg, ‘Discussion’, 2005, Koller Auctions
Tony Cragg, ‘Discussion’, 2005, Koller Auctions
Tony Cragg, ‘Discussion’, 2005, Koller Auctions
Tony Cragg, ‘Discussion’, 2005, Koller Auctions

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To my mind, the Rational-Being sculptures function differently however – the other way round in fact: you look at the work and you see a face, and seeing the face leads the gaze into the material, and then you look at the other forms. And in that moment, when you enter into the forms again, away from the outline and the surface of the work, you step outside the normal axial view of the work, and you begin to experience sculptural form in an exceptional way." (cit. Tony Cragg, in: Jon Wood im Gespräch mit Tony Cragg, in: Exh. Cat. Neues Museum Nürnberg, Tony Cragg. familiae, 22 October 2005 – 15 January 2006, p. 10)

Tony Cragg, born in 1949 in Liverpool, is one of the most influential and formative sculptors of our time. Through his numerous teaching activities and his position as Director of the renowned Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, he has influenced an entire generation of sculptors. After the many prizes, such as the Turner Prize in 1988 and the Cologne-Fine-Art Prize in 2012, as well as his participation in documenta 7 and 8 and numerous biennials, his home town of Wuppertal and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, are currently holding a large retrospective of his work.

Tony Cragg has in the past five decades created one of the most diverse bodies of sculptural work in contemporary art. These range from his early works in the 1970s, which are characterised by the arrangement and presentation of found objects; to the so-called Early Forms, in which the focus was the form of the vessel; to the Rational-Beings, abstract sculptures in which the contours of human faces appear. These are never closed, self-sufficient series of works: in each group of works we find modifications and adaptations of the same motifs – vessels/organs, axes/vertebrae and skin/surfaces (see ibid, p. 18).

The present large format sculpture belongs to the group of Rational-Beings: as viewers, we stand alongside the sculpture, so that at first sight the idea of the axis comes to mind. This runs throughout the work and, as in a spinal column, there are inclinations emerging at right angles, which in this case serve as supports. In addition, discs of different sizes, thicknesses and forms are arranged around this axis, which lend the piece a dynamic and, on the other hand, despite the large size, a sense of lightness. If we move to the transverse side, our perception of the piece changes entirely. The slender, floating surface becomes an almost square, compact form, which appears to split. Seen as fully abstract from the side, here we see two faces turned towards one another. Cragg achieves a powerful combination of two different perceptions in one piece - an effect which does not antagonise the viewer, but instead creates a fully harmonious and conceptually coherent sculpture.

Through the use of wood, this piece has a unique surface structure. The grains of the wood, as well as the layers resulting from the production process, create an almost painterly surface. Unlike the flat polished surface of steel sculptures, this surface lends a sense of warmth and great intimacy.

As the title suggests, the viewer is present at the discussion, but unlike the works in steel does not become part of this discussion through their reflection in the surface.

Image rights: Courtesy of Koller Auktionen

Nürnberg 2005/2006, Tony Cragg. Familiae. Neues Museum Nürnberg, 22 October 2005 - 15 January 2006.

Acquired from Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, by the present owner in 2006. Since then private collection.

About Tony Cragg

Turner Prize-winning sculptor Tony Cragg emerged in the late 1970s with a bold practice that questioned and tested the limits of a wide variety of traditional sculptural materials, including bronze, steel, glass, wood, and stone. “I’m an absolute materialist, and for me material is exciting and ultimately sublime,” he has said. Eschewing factory fabrication of his works, Cragg has been known to merge contemporary industrial materials with the suggestion of the functional forms of mundane objects and ancient vessels—like jars, bottles, and test tubes—resulting in sublime, sinuous, and twisting forms. One of his best-known works is Terris Novalis (1997), an enormous, enigmatic public steel sculpture of engineering instruments. “When I’m involved in making sculpture, I’m looking for a system of belief or ethics in the material,” he says. “I want that material to have a dynamic, to push and move and grow.

British, b. 1949, Liverpool, United Kingdom, based in Wuppertal, Germany