Two New Critical Takes On Tony Cragg

The Tony Cragg show at the Nasher Sculpture Center has been open for a while, but just this week we get two new looks at the show, one via frequent D Magazine contributor, Willard Spiegelman, in the Wall Street Journal, and another via FrontRow contributor (and, full disclosure, my wife) Lucia Simek, in Glasstire. First, the good doctor Spiegelman, who swoons at the simple beauty of Cragg’s work:

Mr. Cragg’s art is at once serious and playful. As a counter to the solidity of the work in bronze, steel, even plywood, he also makes pieces like the painted white fiberglass “Companions,” gourdlike extrusions spreading gracefully in all directions. It is light in several senses. So is “Secretions,” a solid work covered with plastic dice that looks from afar like folk art, perhaps a handmade basket. Is the core secreting the dice? Are the dice pressing from without to make a core? Is there a secret in the sequence of dice? What is skin, what are bones? We’re back to the question of inside and outside.

Simek likes what she sees, at first (“They swarm vertically and horizontally in curving configurations that are at once full of speed, recalling Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, yet somehow still indicative of the slow layering of time, like sediments fused over eons into rock.”), but her love of the work is unraveled by the unavoidable, though thinly veiled, figurative elements:

As a self-proclaimed “Materialist,” the figurative elements in the sculptures are a visual clue pointing to Cragg’s notions of the body and spirit as rooted in the material of the world, but they are also a visual stumbling block. “Material,” Cragg said recently in an interview with D Magazine, “is so complicated and sublime that just if we understood more about that, we’d be a long way down the road to understanding our existences.” But by employing this masked kind of figuration—teasing the viewer into looking for something, rather than being with the sculpture—Cragg has done a great deal to keep us from the purest connection to his chosen materials.