Tony Cragg

On the evidence of this show, Tony Cragg has been taking it easy for the last few months. Following his successful showing at Venice last summer, expectations for this new work were understandably high. Yet when confronted with the lack of imaginative breadth of this work, it was difficult not to be disappointed.

Pebbles, 1988, seemed to be an ironic commentary on the perception of Cragg as a “junk sculptor.” The anonymous “pebbles” are, in fact, pieces of polystyrene flotsam, worn smooth and stained. Strewn on the gallery floor, they appear, to the casual glance, indistinguishable from the other constituents on any beach upon which they might be washed up. Placed on top of the heap is an outsize cast, also in polystyrene, of a sauce bottle. Although tongue-in-cheek, and ultimately as throwaway as its constituent parts suggest, this was the only work in the exhibition that revealed Cragg’s ability to assemble disparate elements in an intriguing way.

Far less successful was Untitled, 1988, an arrangement of plaster forms reminiscent of funnels and other venting outlets on the decks of ships. Some of the individual shapes were intriguing, but, laid out in almost regimental orderliness on the floor, they added up to very little.

Moving around the piece added nothing to one’s understanding of the relationships between elements; the work remained flat. Equally two-dimensional was another Untitled, 1988, a large bronze work that continues Cragg’s well-established use of forms derived from science, and in particular from chemical apparatus. In the past this interest in signaling knowledge and rationality has resulted both in some of the best and some of the worst of Cragg’s sculptures. This piece resembled a conical flask, its neck pulled out in a long descending curve. The resultant form, in folding around on itself, made some play on interior and exterior space, but the dynamic of its sweep was only visible from one angle. Looked at from other vantage points it appeared static, a ridiculous exercise in gigantism. Cragg is a good enough sculptor that this show, one trusts, was simply an aberration.

Michael Archer