TONY CRAGG (B. 1949)
incised with the artist's initials 'TC' (on the base of the sculpture)
stainless steel
68 7⁄8 x 30 ¾ x 25 5⁄8in. (175 x 78 x 65cm.)
Executed in 2014
Private Collection, Germany.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 7 October 2017, lot 322.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Standing nearly two metres in height, Tony Cragg’s Bust is a towering current, an elemental force. Seemingly autonomous but very much engaged with its surroundings, the organic, twisting form appears to rotate in space, a luminous vortex that generates its own gravitational pull. At least two human faces emerge from its mercurial surface. As if arrested between physical states, the fluid softness of Bust belies its industrial material: stainless steel does not occur naturally and yet the work seems to have been ripped directly from the Earth’s inner core. Simultaneously primordial and wholly contemporary, the present work is a study in contrasts, a sense underscored by its title, which alludes to the history of sculpture and the well-established format of the portrait bust. Bust, however, is far from traditional or even representational. Instead, it exists to receive projections, to reflect the world around it, a viewer’s imaginary meanderings, the fluctuating and unresolved.

Like a biologist, Cragg often works within sculptural families, exploring—and exploiting—a material and motif until he can go no further. Bust evolved from his series of Rational Beings, which the artist began during the 1990s. These works are columnar, vertiginous, at once figurative and nonrepresentational; with their humanoid profiles, they call for emotional interpretation even as they ally themselves with the realm of empirical knowledge. Enabling multiple, often duelling responses is of critical importance to Cragg who has long been occupied by the relationship between experience and aesthetics, what he understands to be a confrontation between nature and art. Cragg believes that if artists once strove for verisimilitude and replication in sculpture, now they realise that the medium, at its core, should be about ‘how material and material form affects us’ because ‘everything we have in our head has come from the material world’ (T. Cragg, quoted in R. Punj, ‘Material Matter: An Interview with Tony Cragg, Art & Deal, January 2017, p. 50).

Intrigued by and yet wary of Minimalism’s strict doctrines, Cragg first gained critical acclaim as a leading figure in a new generation of British sculptors who focused on materiality. He initially worked with found objects before embarking upon his series of stacked, freestanding sculptures; time spent working as a laboratory technician at the National Rubber Producers Research Association likewise influenced his exacting, technical approach. Cragg has at various points referred to himself as a ‘radical materialist’, a moniker that his sculptures entirely support. That everything surrounding him is material is a truth Cragg finds ‘sublime and uplifting’ and his practice reveals an infinite capacity to delight in the physical world (T. Cragg, quoted in K. Kellaway, ‘Tony Cragg: “I’m most interested in the emotional qualities of things”’, The Guardian, 5 March 2017). This attention to presence is what makes works such as Bust so enthralling. Under Cragg’s deft hand, the inanimate assumes corporeal potentialities. It grows, swells, and expands; it becomes, in a word, alive.

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