top of page
  • timbarber

Tony Cragg Sculptures at Castle Howard – catch them before 22nd September 2024

I had seen internationally renowned sculptor Sir Tony Cragg’s work elsewhere including at Yorkshire Sculpture Park where his otherworldly pieces work so well being incorporated in the landscape so I was excited and keen to visit when I heard his work was going to be on show at Castle Howard.


I had managed to get to Castle Howard with clients, but as they had mobility issues I was only able to see the exhibits actually in the house and those sitting right next to the house. Luckily I was invited along by Ammie, Head of Sales and Partnerships to a private evening viewing. I immediately accepted and knew it would be a great chance to explore the grounds and see some of the works which had been “out of reach” before.


Firstly, a little bit of background about Tony Cragg. He was born in Liverpool in 1949, but moved to Germany in 1977 and has remained there ever since. In the 1980’s he was a leading light in the “New British Sculpture Movement” particularly for the way his work was influenced by the nature of materials as well as the relationship between structure and surface.


I have a Geology qualification and I understand that Cragg is also fascinated by geology and stratification the way different materials whether they be wood, bronze or glass work as forms.


Castle Howard has a wealth of ancient sculptures around the gardens and in the house set along the Antiques passage, many of which were collected by the 4th Earl of Carlisle on his Grand Tour in the 1700’s, so to see the mix of old and new and how they would work together during the Cragg exhibition is interesting.


We walked down from the car park and the first sculptures came into view.


Points of View, two warped shiny stainless steel columns reflecting the landscape. It is meant to symbolise body shapes incorporated with geological formation. I thought they looked more like silver skeletal figures, maybe the legs of a prehistoric bird? (and no I had not  taken magic mushrooms!)


After this we were met with a huge piece called Senders. At 6.5m it is the largest piece and whilst you have to use your own imagination as to what you are seeing, the guide leaflet explains it could be a configuration of human parts.


Next in front of the Great Hall, where during regency times guests would have pulled up in their horse and carriages to be met with the red carpet treatment, is a large, gold freestanding sculpture produced by Cragg during covid. I had started to see faces in this piece and then discovered it was called Masks and represented a compression of two forms. Am I imagining a mouth and lips?


The next sculpture takes a bit of a climb up a steep hill to the reservoir which feeds the Atlas Fountain in Ray Wood. On a plinth in the middle of the Fountain is a piece called Over the Earth which is reflected in the water. No one seems to be sure exactly what this represents but the guide questions whether it is a winged figure or cloud formations? I think I see the monster from the movie Alien!

Coming out of Ray Wood I was met with an intensely bright bronze sculpture called Versus. Apparently an “orb of intersecting parts and part geological in appearance”. I can see the stratification but it looks more like the sun to me, which I later find out is what others believe the piece to show including the burning fires on its surface.


As I join the path up to the Temple of the Four Winds, I am met with a strange elongated piece called Early Forms St. Galen. This black coloured bronze dates to 1997 and weighs 2.5 tonnes. I have to admit I was not a fan of this work, it did remind me of a slug or even a coprolite!


I marched up the avenue to Temple Terrace to find the Temple of the Four winds open, inside was a really powerful, stunning piece of work and one of my favourites. Called Eroded Landscape, it consists of hundreds of glass vessels stacked upon each other, held on horizontal sheets of glass acting as shelves.


Each vessel has been sand blasted to remove the clearness of the glass and give each piece a frosted opaque appearance. I learnt from the curator in the room, not just how difficult it was to transport all the individual pieces up to the temple in the first place, but how Cragg often uses lots of smaller elements to create a larger piece.


Back to the geology I mentioned earlier. The shelves almost give the artwork some geological stratification.


I walked back down towards the house seeing a brown intertwined piece called Runner, which apparently represents human movement. I couldn’t quite see this but thought I could see lots of faces!


Just on the lawn outside the back of the house there was a wonderful artwork called Industrial Nature, it was red and mottled and from a distance looked to me like a gigantic butterfly. As I got closer the mottling had been done by sanding down layers of paint to give the piece texture. The guide said it was a cross between a mixture of petals and propellors – I still think it looks more like a butterfly!


I was then pointed towards a doorway on the side of the house into a room called the Collonade which had been damaged by fire in the 1940’s and never refurbished. Apparently Cragg often built prototypes out of plywood before casting in bronze, but this piece called Points of View has been left as wood and painted. If you look carefully you can see the plywood layers – again a nod to stratification.


These weird shaped worked well in the confines of the old stonework in the room. I couldn’t help thinking it reminded me of Andrew Goldsworthy’s work where he confines some of his pieces within a dry stone wall.


There were some other pieces in the house itself. In the Great Hall were three highly coloured forms Mc Cormack (blue), Outspan (yellow) and Red Square (red).


I did like the fact that these showed natural forms and I understood the nod towards fossils or shells and early life forms. Some elderly American guests I had recently taken to Castle Howard commented how they just didn’t sit right in the room and I have to admit I agreed.


What made pieces work outside is the space they were given – here I felt it made the iconic room just look cluttered and the pieces looked very out of place with the architecture and other older, more traditional sculpted pieces .


There were some lovely smaller pieces in the High South room including glassworks which worked well with the light in the room and another I felt gave a nod towards the movie Alien!


The room also showed some of Tony Craggs drawings where he would use singe sheets of paper to work ideas up.


Other pieces were on show in the Garden Hall and a couple of larger pieces in the Octagon including one called Pair. Two wooden columns sanded into shape, which can be interpreted as a couple dancing.


And finally a bold red sculpture called Red Figure. This is meant to capture a fleeting moment in time and an intense burst of energy. I think I can see more organic forms such as crystals or the solidification of a liquid or drying of spilt paint. That’s the beauty about art – everyone sees something different.


So in summary, it really is a great exhibition and will certainly stimulate guests and visitors. I personal would have kept the smaller exhibition rooms in the house, but not shown artworks in the Great Hall. I think with Tony Cragg originally being a Landscape Artist, his work is better seen outdoors, particularly in a beautiful setting like Castle Howard.


I did get chance to speak to Lady Howard, and explained my thought which she accepted but she explained they were keen to “shake things up” and getting a “reaction” whatever people thought was important. Her husband Nicholas was a big fan of Cragg’s sculptures and had felt the landscape on his estate would be the perfect place to showcase the organic forms, celebrating texture and the natural world.


I think I have to agree.


The exhibition runs until 22nd September.




bottom of page