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>> Comeback of Sculpture
>> Isa Genzken's Sculptures
>> Tony Cragg: Interview
>> Manfred Pernice: Portrait

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"Material is Everything"
A Conversation with Tony Cragg

Tony Cragg
Photo: Hugo Glendinning, © Tony Cragg

Constant Change is the title of the nearly five-meter-high sculpture - two silvery spirals of stainless steel winding up into the air. At the same time, the forms are reminiscent of human faces. For Tony Cragg, Constant Change sets the tone. The sculptor, born in 1949 in Liverpool and resident of Wuppertal since 1977, can't be reduced to a single style or material. Along with bronze, stone, and plaster, he's worked with modern plastics such as Fiberglas and Kevlar, the fiber that bulletproof vests are made of. In an environment increasingly influenced by human beings, Cragg sets out to clarify the aesthetic obligation that arises from working with a given material.
The artist became internationally known in the late '70s with his assemblages of civilizational garbage, such as colorful plastic bottles. Since the '90s, he has been making perforated bronze objects and biomorphic forms on the floor. For the Briton, who worked for two years in a chemical laboratory prior to his art studies, an intense investigation into scientific discoveries has always played a key role in his work. This also applies to his monumental sculpture Secretions (1998) from the Deutsche Bank Collection, which occupies a prominent position in the foyer of Winchester House, the bank's London headquarters. Thousands of white plastic dice are assembled together like molecules to create organic forms. Their glimmering surfaces look as though they were in a constant state of transformation.
Now, the Turner prizewinner and repeated participant in documenta has bought a villa in Wuppertal and is planning a sculpture park for its spacious garden. After a large one-person exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, his current gallery show at Marian Goodman in New York is opening on May 3. Brigitte Werneburg visited Tony Cragg in his Wuppertal studio.

Slice, 2000
Photo: Niels Schabrod, © Tony Cragg

Brigitte Werneburg: Art objects count among the thousands of things manufactured every day. Do we still notice paintings, videos, photographs, sculptural installations, and sculptures? Or are they seen as ordinary products of an increasingly prosperous market?

Tony Cragg: In terms of human activities, I think that making art is still extremely rare. Maybe that explains why it's so strange that it should carry a price. Basically, art's net product isn't such a big deal. Art is never mass production; it's about the artist's individual investigation into self-imposed questions. You can't compare painting a picture to manufacturing plastic bottles.

Grey Container, 1983
Photo: Franco Toselli & Co., © Tony Cragg

What does that mean for you as a sculptor?

Well, take the average street, as far as that actually exists: cars, buses, trucks - and then there's the tarred surfaces and the curbs, the telephone booths, streetlights, advertisements, and signs that are the same everywhere. Altogether, they constitute an everyday reality whose form is the expression of an economic rationalism based on purpose. The easiest and most economical solutions have the best chances of survival, if you take the Darwinian view of the everyday world of things. Sculpture, which is eminently useless, demonstrates that it's not about this. Rationalism based on purpose leads to a poverty of forms, whereas sculptors have to make these possibilities clear.

George and the Dragon, 1988
©Tony Cragg

But other sculptors represent existing things in their works. Why do your sculptures have to incorporate forms that have only entered the world thanks to Tony Cragg?

Until the end of the 19th century, sculpture was exclusively representative. It was only thanks to the work of other sculptors and artists over the past 100 years that other possibilities were discovered besides the figurative sculpture created in traditional materials such as stone and metal. That's why sculpture was ultimately thought of as a form of "thinking with material." If you take this attitude seriously, then you don't only have to think about the figure or about things that already exist. At some point you think about things that don't yet exist. That begins in any case with Rodin. Art seized the chance to create a completely new language and completely new formal experiences.

Line of Thought, 2002
Photo: Niels Schabrod, © Tony Cragg

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