Tony Cragg — Sculptures



Tony Cragg

Past: February 21 → July 16, 2016

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac hosts a comprehensive solo exhibition of new sculptures by Tony Cragg (b 1949), one of the most distinguished contemporary sculptors, in the vast halls of the gallery space in Paris Pantin. The exhibition will feature 25 new sculptures of steel, bronze, wood, fibreglass and stone. The exhibition coincides with one of the artist’s solo exhibitions at the Eremitage St. Petersburg (March to June 2016) and a retrospective at the Von-der-Heydt-Museum in Wuppertal (April to August 2016).

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Tony Cragg, Parts of Life, 2014 Bronze — 48.43 × 39.37 × 39.37 in Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg — Photo © Charles Duprat

Cragg’s sculptural œuvre was originally motivated by his encounter with English Land Art and Performance, and is still distinguished by an immense wealth of surprising formal inventions and combinations. Cragg sees himself as a materialist, constantly seeking to explore and expand new materials. He has frequently applied techniques such as stacking, layering and heaping to different types of waste material and everyday objects, giving them an unexpected interpretation. Here, it is primarily steel, bronze and wood that he uses for his almost geologically layered arrangements.


“Cragg’s materialism suggests several meanings. In its most comprehensive sense, it implies a philosophical point of view, a conception of the world concentrating on physical phenomena and those circumstances which can be directly deduced from them. His artistic work shows a view of the human being gained through his relation to the environment — ranging from geological formations to urban constructions, from the tools we use to shape the world to furniture and other objects we produce in order to satisfy our needs.”

Lynne Cooke, 2003

In recent years, heads and faces have been appearing like leitmotivs in Cragg’s work. A morphing circular movement shapes the rhythm of the sculptures. Overlapping, layering and convolution give rise to body landscapes forming positives and negatives, asserting a form and at the same time mapping out their vacant spaces. Cragg develops his forms from “artistic sediments that appear to arise from different eras” (Eva Maria Stadler, 2008). The horizontal extension of the biomorphic form is reminiscent of futurist Italian speed fanatics like Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla, while the verticality of his pillar-like sculptures brings to mind Constantin Brancusi, who similarly arrived at a reduction of the natural form through his abstract formal language. Nature with all its structures, from micro to macro, has been the dominant theme of Tony Cragg’s works over the past ten years (such as the monumental sculptures Must Be, 2012, Mean Average, 2014 and Contradiction, 2014, shown in the exhibition).

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Tony Cragg, Willow, 2014 Bronze — 92.52 × 91.34 × 98.82 in Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg — Photo © Charles Duprat

In Early Forms, a series of cast works, which began in the late 1980s, Cragg has created a catalogue of unique sculptural forms derived from a diverse range of vessel types — from ancient flasks to test-tubes, jam jars and detergent bottles — that are twisted and mutated together to make new forms. The title refers to the fact that vessels are among the simplest and earliest surviving man-made forms and, in archaeological terms, are important markers of culture. During the 1990s the Early Forms became increasingly complex. In his latest sculptures, Tony Cragg draws on the idea of the Early Forms and increases the elasticity and dynamics of their composition to such an extent, making it hard to believe that such forms could actually be made out of bronze. This dynamic reaches a preliminary peak in the monumental sculpture Stroke (2014), resembling a giant frozen brushstroke.

A new way of cutting the shape, of fanning it out, is a further characteristic of his latest sculptures, such as_ Hardliner_ (2013), Parts of Life (2014) and Parts of Life II (2015), where the outer surfaces have apparently been effortlessly fragmented.

Tony Cragg’s sculptures “are not closed objects, nor are they impenetrable, designed integral realities. To the contrary, their segmentation, their fracturing or lack of recti-linearity transforms them into open structures, into open motivations of a visual universality, of a visual cosmos. They are structures of a sculptural language that is ready to communicate with the others, the different, ready to be open to dialogue. Even the outlines of these sculptures are never classic geometrical structures, nor are they traditional optical narrations. The eye of the viewer falls upon them and, after the first contact, is directed towards a second reading, full of optical surprises and imbalances that are, however, structured in such a way that, despite their deceptive anarchy, they end up with a balanced, anarchic geometry” (Demsothenes Davvetas, 2015).

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Tony Cragg, Vue d’exposition Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg — Photo © Charles Duprat

Tony Cragg’s distinguishing feature is his primary concern to find new, unprecedented forms that amaze the viewer by their unusual biomorphic and technoid references. A very apt remark which was made in 1911 by the Cubist sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon might well have come from Tony Cragg: “The sole purpose of the arts is neither description nor imitation, but the creation of unknown beings from elements which are always present but not apparent”.


Tony Cragg was born in Liverpool in 1949 and has lived in Wuppertal since 1977. He began his studies at the Gloucestershire College of Art and Design, before changing his course to the Royal College of Art in London in 1973. Since the 1980s his work has been represented at many important international exhibitions, including documenta 7 and 8 in Kassel (1982 and 1987), São Paulo Biennial (1983) and Venice Biennale in 1980, 1988 (he represented Great Britain), 1993 and 1997. In 1988 he was awarded the Turner Prize, and in 1992 he was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. From 1979 he taught at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, where he became professor in 1988, and in 2001 he was appointed Professor of Sculpture at the Berlin Academy of Arts. Since 1994 he has been a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and since 2002 a member of the Academy of Arts, Berlin. In 2007, Tony Cragg received what is probably the most prestigious art prize in the world, the Praemium Imperiale. In 2009 he succeeded Markus Lüpertz as Rector of the Düsseldorf Academy of Art (until end of 2013). In 2013 and 2014 Cragg lectured at the renowned Collège de France in Paris.

Important institutions have been presenting Tony Cragg’s works in solo exhibitions since the 1980s; they include the Kunsthalle, Bern (1983); Lousiana Museum Humlebæk (1984); Brooklyn Museum, New York (1988); Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westphalen, Düsseldorf (1989); Art Institute of Chicago (1990); Reina Sofia, Madrid (1995); Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal (1999); Tate Gallery, Liverpool (2000); Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn (2003); Neues Museum, Nuremberg (2005); Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg (2007); Belvedere, Vienna (exhibition with F.X. Messerschmidt in 2008); Staatlichen Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg (2009). In 2011, nine new works by the artist were shown in the Cour Marly, the Cour Puget and I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre, under the title Figure Out — Figure In. That same year, the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, the Nasher Sculpture Centre, Dallas, and the Küppersmühle Museum, Duisburg, held comprehensive retrospectives of his work. 2012 saw a large-scale exhibition tour through China: the Shanghai Himalayas Art Museum, Chengdu MOCA and Central Academy of Fine Art Museum in Peking. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 followed extensive solo exhibitions at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint Etienne, Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku (Azerbaijan) as well as the Benaki Museum, Athens.

A catalogue with texts by the Greek philosopher, poet and artist Demosthenes Davvetas will be published in April 2016 to accompany the exhibition.

  • Rencontre & signature Event Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 3 PM

    Discussion entre l’artiste et Demosthènes Davvetas à propos de la publication du catalogue de l’exposition « Sculptures ». À partir de 16h, signature de la publication.

93 Seine-St-Denis Zoom in 93 Seine-St-Denis Zoom out

69, avenue du Général Leclerc

93500 Pantin

T. 01 42 72 99 00

Église de Pantin

Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 10 AM – 7 PM

The artist

  • Tony Cragg