New York

Tony Cragg

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

There’s a kind of scientific air to Tony Cragg’s recent sculptures, as if he’d been studying the effects of movement on mass in a wind tunnel. Mass in forceful movement, movement embodied by mass: Declinations, 2003, makes the strategies clear, all the more so because it seems centripetal and centrifugal at once. Concentrated toward some hypothetical core while relentlessly expanding beyond itself, the piece seamlessly integrates fluidity and solidity, thinness and thickness, instability and stability with a kind of dramatic flair. Indeed, the work, like many in this exhibition, could be an aerodynamic gesture abruptly terminated, as though self-containment had been imposed on the uncontainable. The sense of swirling—a demiurgic maelstrom—informs all the sculptures here, even the implicitly figural; the vaguely nauseating, excitingly exotic, mottled jungle greenness of Green Early Forms, 2003, suggests it could have come out of some primordial ooze.

While there is a peculiarly biomorphic freedom and expressionistic energy to Cragg’s sculptures, many of them also seem as if they had been meticulously plotted on the computer—like Frank Gehry’s own biomorphic/expressionistic curves. The computer has made it possible to realize “difficult” new shapes in architecture; why not in sculpture as well? Gehry has spoken of a connection between these forms and childhood memories of seeing living fish chopped up by his mother. Whether or not Cragg has used a computer, one wonders if there isn’t a similar associative logic at work here: The evocative edginess of his sculptures, with their suddenly emerging profiles, hint as much.

Cragg’s sculpture is often regarded as the ne plus ultra of what was once called concrete abstraction. The restless interplay of shapes and spaces and his use of a range of materials, some with a longer history in art than others (stone, wood, and bronze in contrast to fiberglass, Kevlar, and stainless steel, which are sometimes vividly painted), support this. The shape of one wood sculpture seems to have been generated by its own grain, freely playing on and emulating its meandering yet systematic movement. (Another thought: Sometimes their convulsive dynamics and bizarre appearance give the sculptures a surreal flavor. Is Cragg’s work a species of abstract surrealism?) Finally, despite a preoccupation with the complexities of three-dimensional projection, Cragg also conveys a visionary experience of the body, a sense of the bizarre becoming of corporeal being. They objectify a profoundly unconscious, unnameable experience, reminding us that the body remains an enigma and a fantasy however much we think we understand its workings.

Donald Kuspit