Tony Cragg

Galleria Tucci Russo

Tony Cragg’s work, throwing together everyday objects in unexpected combinations, seems the result of some catastrophe, an explosion, perhaps; and an explosion can have many different effects. Typical of his art, all of which shown here was from 1984, are two montages of plastic bits and pieces, hung on the wall in a form of drawing; and a spiral path, composed of a variety of wood objects arranged according to height, which runs from the floor to the top of the cupboard that makes up the last step (or, going in the other direction, the first). The two wall pieces, one of which was located at the entrance to the space, the other at its far end, relate to each other: European Culture Myth, based on a Renaissance image of an angel, is composed of, and decomposes into, rhythmically placed objects in white plastic, while African Culture Myth, derived from a Nigerian tribal sculpture, is in similar black ones. I use the word “rhythm” intentionally: the parts of both Cragg’s wall outlines and his spiral floor piece, the casual detritus of the everyday, are carefully spaced according to size and shape. In its form and material each element represents itself and its own history, while at the same time it is indispensable to the structure of the total image. Yet each element is movable; no laws of physics prohibit the transposition of an individual detail from one spot to another. The prohibitions, then, are mental ones: Cragg’s own concerns—the contradictory yet converging qualities of void and order.

The effects of the explosion the work seems caused by are masked by adherence to two types of rule. One is a kind of inverse rule, the rule of parody: the humble, secondhand, everyday aspect of the found objects contrasts humorously with the strict forms of the images they compose, and with those images’ power. At the same time, the images invoked by Cragg’s “march of objects” are ideal, of the mind. No lines enclose them; they are open to the bare wall or floor, to the void. The viewer is invited to mentally fill in the missing boundaries, which are purely imaginary, suggested only by the placement of the parts. Here is the second type of Cragg’s adherence to rule: he creates a myth of order taking over the void. Paradoxically, that same void imprisons his objects, forcing them to take on a hypothetical form and preventing them from “breaking ranks.” In his outline pieces Cragg uses the void to demonstrate that the completion of the image in the viewer’s mind is a natural product of the viewer’s desire.

Two works here explicitly realize the idea of linking the distances between diverse parts. In Autobahn Hildener-Kreuz four stones, a tree trunk, and a white stool support a large structure of black-tarred cardboard, leaning irregularly on the floor. A feeling of ascending movement pervades this “highway.” 24-Hour Cycle consists of a metal case, an old cardboard suitcase, and a small wood table tied together, in a sort of Laocöon of the artificial world, by an almost intestinal profusion of orange pipe. In Cragg’s wall and spiral-stair pieces, linkage occurs illusionistically in the space between one object and another; it is an idea, which replaces the actual outline that would complete and close off the form. In Autobahn Hildener-Kreuz and in 24-Hour Cycle, however, linkage is materially explicit.

Evensong also explores linkage, but here it emerges as a graphic sign. Geometrical wood forms of varying heights are wedged against each other in a vertical grouping; their surfaces, which vary in color and texture with their different woods, are covered with elliptical marks or signs. This abstract tangle of black lines is like an infinitely extensible protection against the void. The work seems a kind of cityscape or landscape, an object that combines the archetypes of city and mountains, artificial and natural, and which everywhere displays the mark of abstraction. Cragg’s wall and spiral pieces risk becoming decorative, inoffensive; Evensong seems untouched by the explosion they manifest. But the question remains: how might one depict the maximum concentration of the abstract sign?

Luciana Rogozinski

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.