Tony Cragg at the YSP

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The latest main exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a major retrospective of the work of Tony Cragg – a British sculptor who lives and works in Germany. It includes 14 large sculptures (made within the last 10 years) displayed in the grounds, 35 indoors in the Underground and Garden Galleries and 80 works on paper.

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We drove over earlier this week, braving the long term roadworks on the M60, to take a look and were well impressed!

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Tony Cragg was born in Liverpool and initially worked as a lab technician for the National Rubber Producers’ Research Association. He enrolled on the foundation course at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design in Cheltenham in 1969 when he was 20 and then went on to study at Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art. He won the Turner Prize in 1988 and represented Britain at the 42nd Venice Biennale in the same year.

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Initially he was associated with the Land Art movements, concentrating on site-specific installations of found objects and discarded materials. This early part of his career wasn’t particularly covered in the exhibition other than a small selection of works and photographs  in the Project Space in the Underground Gallery, including this one

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New Figuration (1985) – made from plastic objects washed up along the Rhine.

This is another relatively early work, in this case made using heavy-duty metal industrial components

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Minster (1992)

The majority of the larger sculptures on display, however are from his later Early Forms and Rational Beings series.

Cragg started creating his Early Forms in the late 1980s.  They’re based on various types of vessels, such as laboratory test tubes and flasks, jars and bottles which he has “morphed” to form abstract shapes and forms, but with an element of the form of the original object still present. They rather reminded me of plastic or rubber mouldings where the production process has gone wrong resulting in a deformed shape. I’ve seen similar mishaped mouldings when I’ve been visiting rubber and plastic production sites during my work.  No doubt Cragg saw similar things when he working in the rubber industry which gave him some inspiration for this series.

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The starting point for the works in Cragg’s Rational Beings series are profiles of the human face or, sometimes, body. But they’re overlaid and manipulated so that it’s initially difficult to make out the origin of the complex forms he creates from overlaid discs of wood or other materials, in some cases left as wooden sculptures, in other cases casting them in bronze or other metals.

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Look closely from the right angle and the profiles of human faces or figures can be seen

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Other works included examples from his Hedge series

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and a couple of sculptures from the more recent Skull series

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This sculpture has it’s surface entirely covered with dice

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and this one, the surface covered with letters, is reminiscent of the work of Jaume Plensa

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Manipulation (2008)

The Garden Gallery displays concentrated on smaller sculptures and works on paper

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including pictures of test tubes inspired by his time working as a lab technician.

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I particularly liked a couple of smaller sculptures made from glass

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This is a superb exhibition and will definitely benefit from a second visit. We’re already planning one for July!

Sculpture at the McNay Art Museum

The McNay Art Museum have a good collection of 20th Century sculpture displayed in a gallery in the Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions , in a sculpture garden outside this wing and a few other pieces scattered throughout the grounds. There were also a few pieces displayed inside the main galleries. Here’s a selection.

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Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979

Uncommon Ground is a touring exhibition of works drawn from the Arts Council Collection. It’s showing at the Longside Gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture until the middle of June, so we took the opportunity to visit while we were over at the YSP the other Saturday.

The YSP’s website tells us

In the late 1960s artists on both sides of the Atlantic turned away from the enclosed space of the gallery and went out into the landscape to forge a new form of art. This art was made in radically new ways often using earth, water, sun and even fire as raw materials, and went under several names: land art, earth art, process art, and conceptual art. Drawing largely from the Arts Council Collection and supplemented by important loans from artists and major public institutions,Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966 – 1979 takes a fresh look at the art of this period and considers what was particular about the way land art developed in Britain.

The exhibition featured works that reflected the main aspects of the movement – moulding the landscape itself, using materials taken from the environment, creating a temporary impression and even walking.

We’ve seen numerous works by Richard Long, Anthony Gormley, David Nash and Andy Goldsworthy over the past few years and have become “fans” so it was interesting to see the early examples featured in this exhibition. And, as is often the case, there were works by artists who I’d never heard of previously and so I was able to make some new discoveries.

The works were very well displayed in the Gallery. The long view of the parkland through the windows which extend all along one side of the building really complemented them and provided an appropriate context – almost like an exhibit itself.

No photographs were allowed in the gallery, so the following pictures of some of my favourite works on display have been sourced via th’Internet.

This is Fallen Tree (1979) an early work by Anthony Gormley, best known for his figurative sculptures based on his own body.

The work was created by taking slices from a tree trunk and then arranging them in a spiral starting at the centre with the smallest piece and then working outwards, increasing in size.

It reminded me very much of the work of Richard Long, one of whose works, Stone Circle (1972) consisted of stones laid out in a circle

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Richard Long made his mark (literally) with A Line Made by Walking (1967) he walked back and forth along a straight line in the grass, leaving a track that he then photographed in black and white.

Richard Long, ‘A Line Made by Walking’ 1967

The idea of creating art by walking, where the act of walking itself can become a work of art but where the artist leaves a mark on the landscape in some way, some more ephemeral than others, was, and remains, a trend in Land Art. A number of examples, including A Line Made by Walking, which we had seen before, were featured in the exhibition. The act is usually recorded in some way, usually by photographs, but sometimes by leaving a mark on the landscape – sometimes temporary (although often photographed to record for posterity) or more permanent, like the piles left by Richard Long on another of his journeys that was featured in the exhibition.

Another aspect of Land Art is the use of materials taken from the environment. This is typified by David Nash, the master of using wood harvested from “wood quarries”. There were examples of his work on display, including Silver Birch Tripod, 1975.

and Ash Dome a ring of 22 growing ash trees into near Nash’s home in North Wales, bent to form a living dome.

An early work by Tony Cragg, New Stones – Newton’s Tones (1978), took materials from the environment too, but in this case they’re pieces of plastic waste recovered from the Rhine and displayed in the order of the colours of the rainbow.

Andy Goldworthy also uses materials from the landscrpe, in many cases for on-site installations that use  only the materials available on site such as rocks, leaves, branches, snow and ice. These works are often ephemeral, eroding, decaying, crumbling or melting and the only evidence for their existence are the photographs that he takes. There were several examples in the exhibition including Snowball 1979

There were several more permanent works by Roger Ackling, who used sunlight to burn patterns into wood or paper, creating primitive photographic prints. One example was  ‘Night and Day’ (1 hour), 1977.

There were films too. Sometimes constituting the work itself, like Dereck Jarman’s A Journey to Avebury 1979, or a record of an event, like the Anthony McCall’s  Landscape for Fire II, 1972.

Photographs featured quite heavily in the exhibition – sometimes to record ephemeral works, as a record of an event or to show dramatic landscapes (I found the selection of photographs Sea Horizons by Garry Fabian Miller of the Bristol Channel under different conditions particularly affecting – pity about the reflective glass that made it difficult to view them properly). But they were used in other ways too. An example of the latter was John Hilliard’s Across the Park 1972. This is a series of pictures where a single shot is cropped in different ways providing very different interpretations of the same scene. Very clever, I thought and demonstrating how images can be manipulated and how “truth” depends on editing and perspective.

The exhibition provided a good opportunity to explore the origins of Land Art. It was particularly interesting to be able to see early works by artists we like, to see their early ideas and the beginnings of trends that they developed further during their career or, in some cases, abandoned to take other directions.

Another New Year’s Day at the Hepworth

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It seems to becoming a tradition that we travel over to Wakefield to visit the Hepworth Gallery on New Year’s Day. Well, if going there two years on the run counts as establishing a tradition! We’ll have to see what happens next year. In any case driving over the M62 on the morning of the first day of the year is a lot easier than normal as there was relatively little traffic on the roads and the Hepworth is worth the journey.

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We visited the gallery twice in 2012, the last time in September when we saw the excellent Richard Long exhibition and the post war British painting and sculpture in galleries 2 and 3. There were two new temporary exhibitions – one of Barbara Hepworth’s hospital drawings of surgeons at work and two rooms showing To Hope, To Tremble, To Live Modern and Contemporary Works from the David Roberts Collection.  The title derived from a quote from Rodin “The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. Be a man before being an artist!”

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The exhibition of post war drawings and sculptures was still on, but was definitely worth another look and we enjoyed looking round the the Barbara Hepworth sculptures in room 1 and the permanent exhibitions of Hepworth’s plasters and works by artists from the St Ives  school (although even here there were some changes). The Hepworth also have some exhibits outdoors and these included Upper Mill a work by the illustrator James Pyman. We spent a good 3 hours there, including having our dinner (a tasty, and slightly different, hot pot of vegetables) in the cafe.

(Some works from To Hope, To Tremble, To Live Picture source: Hepworth website)

The Hepworth hospital drawings  were stunning and I think they deserve their own, separate, post. I was much less taken with the exhibition of works from the David Roberts collection. I entered  with hope, but very few of the works made me tremble and most of them failed to move me. I liked some of the works on display, Man Ray’s photograph Ady (1935) of his mistress, Adrienne Fidelin, a dancer and model from Guadeloupe, Ricky Swallow’s Standing Mask (soot) 2010, Tony Cragg’s Wild Relatives (2005) and Eduardo Paolazzi’s Picador (c1955). But most of the of the other works went over my head. I could admire the skill of the artists, and their obvious intelligence, but I wasn’t moved by them. So it wasn’t a completely successful exhibition for me. Nevertheless, I think it is important to explore different types of art, rather than just stick to the “safe” and familiar, as it makes you think and it’s how you discover new artists and works.

So overall a good day out, well worth the drive over the Pennines, and a good way to start the New Year.