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A Place in My Heart

Tony Cragg
A Place in My Heart, 1998
thermoplastic dice over fiberglass
element 1: 228 x 190 x 109 cm; element 2: 172 x 90 x 92 cm
Purchased 1999

Tony Cragg is one of the leading figures among a generation of British sculptors who emerged on the international scene in the late 1970s. Unlike their predecessors Henry Moore or Anthony Caro, these younger sculptors did not find their inspiration in nature and traditional materials, but in the urban environment and manufactured objects. In addition, Cragg’s interest in science, in particular the way that scientific discoveries have extended the boundaries of the natural world – opening invisible realms to knowledge – and in the blurred distinctions between the natural and the artificial, has nourished his promethean imagination.

A Place in My Heart is typical of the formally inventive sculptures that characterize Cragg’s recent work. The title carries both a reference to feeling – (you will always have) a place in my heart – and to the physical structure of the heart. With its prompting, we may see in the bulging and hollowed shapes of the work a suggestion of the muscular chambers and ventricles of the heart. Yet the sculpture does not literally represent anything. Rather, it is a good example of Cragg’s ability to analyze, deconstruct, and recombine the forms of things existing in the world to make new and unfamiliar objects that tease us with their resemblance to things we know. The skin of dice that clads the forms knits them together visually, while taking us metaphorically from the inner world of the body in which function dominates to the world of everyday experience where chance and the aleatory have equal importance. The incongruity of such juxtapositions has led some to see Cragg as a latter-day surrealist, but it seems unlikely that the dogma of that movement is of any particular interest to him, given his preoccupation with scientific knowledge. More likely it was the incongruity of scale and form between the small, regular shape of the dice and the organic volumes they mask that pleased him. The camouflaging textural dazzle of the dice when massed together contributes significantly to the arresting visual impact of the sculptural pair.

Cragg has used the metaphor of the landscape to describe his work: “People say there’s a great deal of variety in my work, but I’m not so sure that’s true. . . . It’s like making a complete landscape with all the parts in it: there’s the urban world, architecture and so on, there’s the organic world, there’s the atmosphere, and there’s the geological structure.”1 A Place in My Heart alludes to the organic world, evoking the sensate world of the body with unexpected wit. Its acquisition enables the National Gallery to demonstrate the evolution of Cragg’s work from an earlier preoccupation with creating three-dimensional images of everyday life assembled from objects scavenged in the urban landscape, as seen in the work Red S (1983) already in the collection, to inventive allusions to the body and the invisible processes that sustain life. Its visual eloquence makes it a significant addition to the contemporary art collection.

1. Tony Cragg, cited in Thomas McEvilley, “Tony Cragg: Landscape Artist,”
in Paul Schimmel et al., Tony Cragg: Sculpture 1975–1990, exh. cat.
(Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1990), p. 110.