“Tony Cragg seems to me one of the two best straight-up abstract sculptors now at work in the world,” wrote Peter Schjeldahl in the Village Voice in 1998. “No one in contemporary art toils harder to do more sorts of things more spectacularly with a greater range of materials and processes.”
Tony Cragg was born in Liverpool, England, in 1949. His father was an electrical engineer. He earned a BA from the Wimbledon School of Art in 1973. In 1977 he received a masters degree from London’s Royal College of Art and then moved to Wuppertal, Germany, where he continues to live. He works in a huge studio in a defunct industrial space in Wuppertal. In 1978 he began teaching at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he still teaches.
Cragg works in metal, glass, and plastic fabrication, as well as in traditional sculpture materials, and applies a casually exquisite draftsmanship to drawings and prints. In the late 1970s, he began making wall sculptures of assembled found objects, and has said, surprisingly, that in doing so he was thinking of van Gogh. Van Gogh, Cragg explained, wrote about going through the trash as “a fantasy journey through a land of strange forms and colors.”
In 1981 Cragg made Britain Seen from the North, a work that helped establish his reputation. In it, a collection of pieces of bright industrial debris forms the silhouette of a man looking up at the shape of Britain. Cragg participated in 1982 and 1987 in Documenta, the influential international exhibition held in Kassel, Germany. In 1988 he won the Turner Prize in Great Britain and gave the entire £10,000 prize to charity. Also in 1988 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. In 1989 he had his first solo show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, where he is still represented. Crown Point Press published editions of Cragg’s etchings in 1988 and 1990. In 1996 the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London held a retrospective of his work. In 2007 he received the Praemium Imperiale, a major prize for outstanding achievement in the arts given by the Japan Art Association. In 2017 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center, and his work was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England.
Cragg’s work is in the collections of museums around the world, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Tate Collection, London; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He has produced many public art works, including a 2001 Public Art Fund commission for Central Park in New York. Peter Schjeldahl wrote in the Village Voice in 1998 that Cragg “is a ‘public artist’ in an unusually complete sense. It is all about getting art into a world that is presumed to want art. Each Cragg work confidently awaits a home in some particular room or outdoor space, to which it will impart civilized value with the spiritual equivalent of perpetual motion.”
-Kim Bennett, Crown Point Press