Matter and Energy
Tony Cragg at the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal

Constant change is a constant in Tony Cragg’s work. Scarcely another sculptor has imbued bronze, stainless steel, stone, and plastic with such dynamic elegance. For his trailblazing work he has received the Turner Prize and the Praemium Imperiale. Now the Von der Heydt Museum in the artist’s hometown Wuppertal is presenting the most comprehensive Cragg show to date, including a prominent loan from the Deutsche Bank Collection.
“Material is everything,” Tony Cragg said in an interview with ArtMag. But the British sculptor is not only interested in stone, bronze, and wood. He works with fiberglass and Kevlar, a fiber otherwise used to make bulletproof vests, with as much ease as traditional materials. But Cragg’s sculptures can also consist of plastic dice. The latter caught his eye at a toy store, and he was reminded of Einstein’s famous phrase “God doesn’t play dice.” With the remark, the Nobel Prize winning physicist expressed his conviction that nothing is left to chance in physics. More than seventy years later, this statement inspired Cragg to make Secretions, one of his most impressive works. In the fiberglass sculpture composed of thousands of dice his  interest turns to big and small things of creation – the infinite, as well as the profane. The flowing shapes recall blood cells or microorganisms that spawn new life forms. The irony: Craig actually rolled dice while he was making the sculpture. As an artistic creator, he mounted the dice on the surface exactly the way they lay after he rolled them. Since 1999, his Secretions have welcomed Deutsche Bank staff and guests in the lobby of the bank’s London headquarters. Now Cragg’s masterpiece is on view at the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, where the artist has lived since 1977, in his largest retrospective to date.

From his early assemblages made of plastic waste to his recent dynamic stainless-steel vortexes, one can trace Cragg’s artistic development on three floors. The show is not chronological but organized according to work and material groups. It is best to begin on the second floor. Here both early and current sculptures are on exhibit – including Secretions, which was installed in its own cabinet. The first works, executed in the 1970s while Cragg was studying at the Royal College of Art in London, are in a field of tension with the most important movements of the time: Minimal, Land and Concept Art, as well as Arte Povera. Richard Long’s sculptures made of rocks and boulders, driftwood, or similar unprocessed materials were crucial to his artistic development. However, Cragg preferred civilizational garbage: he arranged colored plastic on walls or floors to conjure up crowds of people, leaves, and missiles. He piled up waste wood and other found pieces to make cuboids.

Cragg takes up the stack motif again in his more recent works. The work group “Rational Beings” is based on layered discs. The narrow forms, striving upwards, strike a balance between figuration and abstraction, recalling human silhouettes or profiles. But there is no ideal viewing perspective. On the contrary, only due to the movement of the viewer and the constantly changing viewing angle does the quality of these works come to light. One continually recognizes different shapes – as though the sculpture were undergoing a process of metamorphosis. Matter becomes energy, energy matter. It is no accident that Cragg titled one of his works Constant Change.

The first floor of the museum is primarily devoted to Early Forms. The starting point of this series are vessels, including bottles, amphorae, and test tubes whose forms Cragg continually varies and melds together until the models can scarcely be recognized. His formal vocabulary seems to undergo a kind of evolutionary development. The parallels to scientific phenomena and forms are not a coincidence. After high school, Cragg, the son of an electrical engineer in the aviation industry, worked initially as an intern for a biochemical research company. Knowledge from neuroscience, chemistry, genetic engineering, and molecular biology has given impetus to his artistic development again and again. “I am interested in the power and the potential of learning more about materials, myself included, using chemistry, physics, philosophy or sculpture,” says the artist. Cragg’s drawings and prints, some of which are on display on the mezzanine level, also give insight into his artistic process. They are not just drafts for his sculptural works. Like the sculptures, the works on paper are also created in series. Often, they reflect sculptural themes yet they are conceived as autonomous works, independent of the sculptural process.

If you want to see more of Tony Cragg after viewing the show’s more than 100 works, you should definitely pay a visit to the nearby sculpture park Waldfrieden. In the park of a heritage-listed building designed based on anthroposophic principles, Cragg has since 2008 shown contemporary sculpture, including works by Richard Deacon, Thomas Schütte and Bogomir Ecker, as well as a few of his own works. Spiraling up on the grass are his Points of View; three five-meter-high bronze columns consisting of stacked ellipses. And an Early Form on the ground between chestnut, oak, and beech trees looks like the carapace of an extinct instinct. Everything in the sculpture park fits together perfectly: the curved shapes of the villa, the trees and bushes of the expansive park, and Tony Cragg’s organic technoid sculptures.

Tony Cragg, Parts of the World
4/19/2016 – 8/14/2016
Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal