Tong Cragg: Material Worlds

The most extensive UK show to date from Tony Cragg is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, this March. A Rare Category of Objects consists of pieces from up to five decades of the artist’s career, the collection including new installations and drawings, all of which demonstrate a masterful manipulation of materials and innovative design. Visitors are welcomed into the park with Caldera (2008), an impressive bronze sculpture nearly five metres in height set amidst the stunning landscape of YSP.

The title of the display is a phrase which the artist uses to define the practice. The ability and desire to analyse every one of the planet’s materials is a feature unique to humanity, along with the intuition to sort and categorise the things brought into existence. It is this unique characteristic that Cragg illustrates through a deep and complex oeuvre. The concept of classifying and organising forms an important strand in the creative method, as shown in the striking sculpture Minster (1990), which resembles a cluster of the cathedral spires assembled from circular metal and plastic machine parts, stacked in a precise structural order.

Cragg, a “radical materialist”, has a fascination for the investigation of the material world and the possibilities it affords; this concept is the foundation for the entirety of his career. The practitioner considers the resources of the world to be: “the huge storeroom [in which] lie the keys to the essential processes and explorations of our existence.”  The combination of the art and the physical transformation of materials, particularly through industrial process, is a cornerstone of Cragg’s process, an element that originates from both his career as a lab technician and his work in an engine factory. A systematic approach, as exemplified in his major series Rational Beings, also featured in at YSP, it is a technique that acknowledges the alchemical evolution of configurations of material into objects with meaning beyond the sum of their parts. From the small scale to the monumental, Cragg’s prolific practice is the result of constant questioning and experimentation, in reference to both the symbiotic process of thought and manual construction.

With the help of the studio, Cragg creates the sculptures by hand, with each originating from drawings and every step of the evolution inspiring the next. This relationship is articulated in a simultaneous display of illustrations and objects, giving viewers the opportunity to follow the development of the ideas into their final, physical form.

A Rare Category of Objects, 4 March – 3 September. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield. To find out more, visit:

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1. Tony Cragg, Caldera (2008). Courtesy of the Tony Cragg Foundation.