Conceived in 1972, Crescent Edge is one of the finest works by Robert Adams to come for sale at auction in recent years. Measuring 48 inches high, the work is a large-scale piece from one of Adams’s most pivotal and transitional periods. Executed in stainless steel, its sinuous and organic form, with its central aperture, highlights Adams’s interplay between solid and void; and line and form, which succeeds in creating a harmonious yet dynamic and striking piece. Adams stated, ‘I am … interested in contrasts between linear forces and masses, between solid and open areas … the aim is stability and movement in one form’ (R. Adams, 1966, quoted in A. Grieve, The Sculpture of Robert Adams, London, 1992, pp. 109-111).
This experimentation with light and pierced forms stems from his works from the late 1960s, which was shown in his seminal touring retrospective exhibition held by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1971, a year before the present work was conceived. Among the works shown were some of his large steel sculptures, such as Balanced forms, 1963 and Insert, 1968, as well as his Screen series, which appear as a precursor to Crescent Edge, with Adams manipulating thin rectangular plates of sheet steel, often pierced with holes and thin strips, to allow light to filter through his sculptures. Although Adams was soon keen to move on from these flat and relief-like forms to create sculptures, which would speak greater of volume and three-dimensionality, he stated, ‘I am now less interested in the screens; they are too flat, I now want something more three dimensional. Some, I feel now, are more like paintings’ (R. Adams, 1966, quoted in ibid., p. 113).
Many of his experimental works of the 1960s reveal an awareness of the recent American art, with connections having been made with his work and that of Ellsworth Kelly as well as the division of colour-field paintings of Barnett Newman, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. This influence continued into the early 1970s but now Adams experimented with more traditional materials such as marble and worked with smaller-scale bronze works, while simultaneously pursuing his interest in steel.
Crescent Edge continues his joy of working in the medium of steel as well as exploring more naturalistic and organic references as a source of inspiration. Alastair Grieve explains, ‘Adams was inspired by waves as he was by the forms of trees and leaves. A contemporary sketchbook contains studies of the abstracted rhythm of advancing waves and ripples extending to a hard, flat, horizon. In a group of sculptures at this 1974 Gimpel Fils exhibition he suggests, with severely abstract forms, the surge of rearing waves about to break, the clam spaces between gathering waves, the sway and the counter-sway of waves far out. Five of the sculptures are bronzes titled Wave form and with them can be grouped another, much larger, sculpture in stainless steel Crescent Edge’ (ibid., p. 127).
He continues, ‘Crescent Edge … differs from Wave form No. 1 in that it is not a basic cube but a wedge shape, as though one section of Wave form No. 1 had been split away from its core to stand alone. It has to be seen from in front of its thin, crescent edge which surges out and slightly sideways from a truncated, scarcely rounded, back. The contrast between the crescent edge and its broad, gently hollowed flanks is startling, suggesting, despite its asymmetry, the prow of a ship designed to cut through waves, as well as the wave itself. And through its flanks, low down and towards the back, is an elliptical hole like the hole through which an anchor chain is fed’ (ibid., pp. 127-128).