International sculptor Tony Cragg holds landmark exhibition at Castle Howard

Sculptor Tony Cragg with his bronze work Outspan in the Great Hall at Castle Howard. Picture: Charlotte Graham

TWO years in the making and two weeks in the assembling, Tony Cragg’s sculpture show is a landmark in Castle Howard’s culturally rich history.

Running until September 22, it forms the first major exhibition by a leading contemporary artist to be held across the house and grounds of the North Yorkshire country estate, recognised far and wide as the location for Brideshead Revisited, Bridgerton and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Cragg is exhibiting new and recent sculptures, many for the first time on British soil, including large-scale works in bronze, stainless steel, aluminium and fibreglass installed in the grounds.

Tony Cragg’s 2015 fibreglass sculpture Over The Earth, the first ever to stand on the 18th century plinth in the Ray Wood reservoir at Castle Howard. Picture: Nick Howard

Inside the house are works in bronze and wood, as well as ten glass sculptures, presented alongside Cragg’s works on paper. Sculptures are displayed in the Great Hall, the Garden Hall, the High South, the Octagon and the Colonnade.

‘The invitation to do an exhibition at Castle Howard is a special one and I am delighted to present work here,” says the 1988 Turner Prize winner, who has lived in Wuppertal, Germany, since 1977. 

“Within the beautiful landscape and historical architecture of this place, between nature and history, it is interesting to see where new and contemporary forms find a place and what role they might play.”

Sculptor Tony Cragg, centre, Nick Howard and Victoria Howard in the Great Hall at Castle Howard. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Welcoming Cragg to Castle Howard, Victoria and Nicholas Howard say: “We’ve always loved the work of Tony Cragg and are delighted that the first contemporary sculpture exhibition here should be dedicated to him. Castle Howard is renowned for its wonderful collection of classical sculpture, and it is fascinating to see how Cragg’s work interplays with the collection and highlights the wonder and relevance of this art form for today’s audiences.”

At the highest point in the grounds, a plinth in the middle of the 500,000-gallon Ray Wood reservoir had never been used for a display since its 18th century construction, but now it plays host to Cragg’s 2015 sculpture Over The Earth in its first British showing and outdoor debut, enhancing the plinth’s counterbalance to the obelisk in architect John Vanbrugh’s design.

Two new outdoor works make their debut: Industrial Nature (2024), an aluminium sculpture that suggests hybrid forms both grown and made by machines, on the south side, and Masks(2024), a bronze sculpture of two forms, sliding tightly into each other to create an image of inseparability, on the north side. 

Tony Cragg with his 2024 aluminium sculpture Industrial Nature. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Head to the Temple of the Four Winds to see Eroded Landscape, a 1999 work made from pre-existing objects, in this case sand-blasted vessels, bottles, jars, wine glasses. Fitting, by chance, bang in the centre of the floor mosaic, it may look alarmingly fragile yet has a robustness to it too. Twice a week, a cleaning team is sent up there to remove flies.

“That work needs shelter and the temple is a perfect place to put a fragile work in – and the light in there is beautiful,” says Tony.

Typified by Versus (2015), Senders (2018) and Points Of View (2018), Tony Cragg At Castle Howard celebrates his sculptural imagination, the fascinating ways his sculpture sits within historic landscape and architectural settings and his diversity of materials, all playing to the theatricality and playfulness of architect and playwright Vanbrugh’s design.

Tony Cragg with Points Of View, stainless steel, 2018

“It was two years ago that I first came here, saw the house and grounds and got into a discussion about what we could do here – and sculptures tend to be a little bit time consuming,” says Tony, recalling the genesis of his show.

“I like to work on a lot of works at the same time, continuing to develop works with ideas that I’ve come up with that I want to work on further, or new ideas where I want to see where they lead me – excepting that at 75 you don’t have time to waste!

“Once there’s a history of making work, you know how to do things, and a lot of things are done in the drawing stage, so I eliminate plenty of roads that I don’t have to go down at that point. I’ll start with small works and if I can find something meaningful, I’ll go on with it, and it might change and develop into a larger one – but sometimes you just have to let an idea go.”

Versus, bronze, by Tony Cragg, at Castle Howard. Picture: Michael Richter

Not knowing Castle Howard before his fist visit was “maybe an advantage”. He was struck by the “fantastic” architecture and the cultivated grounds, the “museum piece” sculptures and paintings, but “that’s not what I react to as a sculptor”. “More interesting is the topography,” he says. “What’s important to me over a range of work is the positive dialogue between the ‘situation’, like the façade of the house, and the work.”

Working all summer in his studio in Sweden on his sculptures, Tony has multiple exhibitions converging on each other at present: “Salzburg, Castle Howard, Dusseldorf and….I forget them all!…Venice.”

Tony Cragg At Castle Howard, Castle Howard, near York, until September 22. Tickets:

Tony Cragg: back story

Tony Cragg with one of his ten glass works at Castle Howard. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Born: Liverpool, April 9 1949.

Lives: Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

Occupation: Sculptor and teacher, exhibiting since 1969.

Full title: Sir Anthony Douglas Cragg CBE RA.

Education: Gloucester, Wimbledon and Royal College of Art, London, from 1969 to 1977. Moved to Wuppertal that year, teaching at Düsseldorf Kunstakademie.

Exhibited at: Tate Gallery, London, 1988; Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, and Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 1989; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, and Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2011; Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, 2013; Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, and Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2016; Boboli Gardens, Florence, 2019.

Also exhibited in: Berlin, Hamburg, Naples, Genoa, Tokyo, New York, Toronto, Middleburg and plenty more. Took part in in documenta 7 and 8.

1988, what a year: Represented Great Britain at Venice Biennale and won Turner Prize.

Senders, fibreglass, by Tony Cragg, 2018. Picture: Michael Richter

Awards: Praemium Imperiale Award, Tokyo, 2007; Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, 2017.

Professorships: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, and Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, where he was director from 2009 to 2013.

Noted for: Using found objects to create sculptures, from seashore flotsam to plastic debris. Making monolithic forms from metal, stone and glass.

In the words of Tony Cragg At Castle Howard curator Dr Jon Wood:

“TONY Cragg’s passionate curiosity about materials and the complex lives of form always shine through his work. For him, sculpture is an amazing means of investigation that can shape human understandings of the world better than any other art form.

“His works are always dynamic, animated by movement, change and transformation. Works like Over The Earth, Runner and Versus sit compellingly in the grounds of Castle Howard – with its wonderful gardens, woods and lakes, historic interiors and collection of antique sculpture – inviting us to see the past through the present and to look at the world afresh.”