Tony Cragg, ‘Rod’, 2000, Piano Nobile

‘Rod’ was shown at the Marian Goodman Gallery, New York in 2003 in an exhibition which bought together two iconic bodies of work from Cragg’s oeuvre - ‘Rational Beings’ and ‘Early Forms’. By displaying these two groups of work together, Cragg illustrated his belief that his sculptural practice could not be neatly divided into distinct areas and categories but argued instead that each body of sculptures was homogenous, developing from what preceded it. This aesthetic concept is rooted in a Darwinian vision of evolution defined as a constant process of becoming, which Cragg likens to ‘following a thread’, a thread which is highly evocative of the generic title ‘Early Forms’.

The essential thread that runs between Cragg’s sculptures is the idea and shape of the vessel. Omni-present, the vessel acts as a point of unity between the sculptures and a means through which Cragg can develop new forms, as they run into each other. This process of constant renewal takes place in the very depths of the sculpture. Wood describes such shapes as ‘forms of enclosure and containment that then have their enveloping skins folded open, turned inside out and stretched, revealing their inner spaces and volumes and their imagined layered…lives.’ Vitally Cragg likens the shape of the vessel to ‘the basic structures of living organisms’. Such a statement illuminates the metaphorical as well as descriptive power of the vessel. Through this metaphor and their physical properties, the sculptures are imbued with an independent inner dynamism, which enables them ‘to push and move and grow.’ Cragg’s description of his sculptures as living things returns the viewer to the wider idea of evolution.

For Cragg, meaning in his sculptures is inextricably linked to form; he writes ‘works unravel their meaning back and forth’. To identify meaning Cragg urges us to recognise ‘that every object is accompanied by a world of associations and references’. The title ‘Rod’ alludes to a shape, while the generic title ‘Early Forms’ creates parallels with evolution. Indeed the smooth, seductive surface of ‘Rod’ with its energetic tight curves and loops are clearly reminiscent of the twisted sides of a double helix bond, the basic structure of DNA. The monumentality of the sculpture attests to the essential function of DNA within humankind. While the unpredicatable shapes in ‘Rod’ and the fact that it is in a perpetual state of change, echoes the random nature of human genetic make up. Furthermore within the twists and curves there are strange paradoxes as the shapes collide, stop and begin again, thus compelling us to confront contradictions that lie within ourselves. Through the shape and structure of ‘Rod’ Cragg addresses complex and important questions and themes, including our origin, being, make up and essence. Such themes demonstrate that apparently abstract objects can have the same aesthetic and informative impact as traditional works of art.

Signature: Signed, numbered '2/5' and stamped with the 'Schmake, Dusseldorf' foundry mark

Manufacturer: Schmake, Dusseldorf foundry

2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 20

Julia Fischel, (exhib. cat.), Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, London, 2016, Piano Nobile, 17 May - 23 June, cat. no. 20, col. ill. p.61

The Artist
Private Collection, UK

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

Solo Shows

Museo Nivola, 
Orani, Italy,
Endless Form
Fundación Hortensia Herrero, 
Valencia, Spain,
Seis Esculturas
Düsseldorf, Germany,
Tony Cragg
View Artist's CV