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Tony Cragg.

The real book on Tony Cragg does not yet exist, despite the thirty-odd exhibition catalogues and "books by the artist" listed in his bibliography, let alone the present volume, billed as the first monograph on his work. If it did, it would probably have to be called The Compleat Sculptor. Cragg's oeuvre is the broadest and most comprehensive in its sources, issues, forms, and materials, not just among the very strong generation of sculptors who emerged in England in the first half of the 80s (including Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley, and Alison Wilding), but perhaps of all the significant sculptors working today.

Having seen all of Cragg's New York exhibitions since 1984, as well as his retrospective last winter at the Centre Pompidou, I was particularly impressed by how many unfamiliar works reproduced here don't just fill in between the lines of those I already knew, but genuinely surprise me by veering off in other directions altogether. Flipping through these pages shows that, more than any of his fellow sculptors, Cragg reintegrates discordant traditions, notably those of the readymade and of "formalism," of abstraction and of figuration, even of sculpture and of painting (since his multicolored plastic wall pieces of the early '80s clearly impinge upon pictorial issues, at once paralleling and criticizing the figurative painting of their day while definitively liberating him from the influence of Carl Andre, to whose art all of Cragg's work of the '70s had been a series of imaginative rejoinders). In so doing, Cragg never seems, as a mannerist would, simply to exhaust previous perspectives; instead, the various turns his oeuvre takes provide tantalizing glimpses of possible future realizations.

Germano Celant's text represents a real opportunity missed, because this well-known curator-critic, christener and champion of the Italian arte povera movement - certainly among Cragg's salient precursors - ought to have been an ideal explicator of his significance on the contemporary international scene. Perhaps Celant was stymied by having to account for so much in a brief sixteen pages, all the space his essay has been allowed here. In any case, he is not without some substantial insights, but with insufficient grounding in the nitty-gritty details of the artist's working methods and formal concepts, and the manifold breaks and turns these have undergone, those insights are largely lost amidst metaphorical murmurings that move uneasily between pseudophilosophy and pseudopoetry: for instance, "the fact that the collected whole potentially possesses a multiplicity also gives rise to a multiplicity of analysis. Given Cragg's biological and scientific interests, one may perhaps speak of free molecular compounds, which find their structural arrangement depending on the exposure to the heat of the exhibition or the public space." Got that? Cragg's work means different things to different people? His sculptural groups are configured differently in different spaces, or they come to life only when exhibited? Whatever. It's all true, and then some. You'll see when the real book comes out.

Barry Schwabsky reviews regularly for Artforum.
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Title Annotation:BookForum
Author:Schwabsky, Barry
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:492
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