John McCracken: 'IV' (1985) and 'Neon' (1989)

Institute exhibition
29th February 2012 - 13th May 2012
Gallery 4

John McCracken
Polyester resin on wood

Courtesy Estate of the Artist and Lisson Gallery

'Sculpture: the language of three-dimensional form. An abstract, physical-form-concept language with a syntax of scale, height, breadth, stance, gesture, attitude - plus colour (material) and surface (reflections).'
John McCracken, 2000

Our Gallery 4 programme of exhibitions presents sculptures from the past that have made sculpture in the present possible. Programmed alongside the Gallery 1, 2 and 3 exhibitions, Gallery 4 presents works of historical importance that demand of our contemporary displays their indebtedness to sculpture's history and uniqueness today. Across the Main Gallery exhibitions United Enemies: The Problem of Sculpture in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s and Michael Dean: Government we present two sculptures by the American artist John McCracken (1934-2011): 'IV' from 1985 and 'Neon' from 1989.

From the mid-1960s onwards McCracken made blocks, slabs, planks and geometric shapes utilising the basic languages of sculpture: scale, colour, height, width and breadth. McCracken's sculptures ask a fundamental question: 'how do things sit in space?'  The surfaces of his objects are solid colours, seamlessly reflecting all that surround them. These are pure attitude, shifting surrounding architecture off-balance and implicating the viewer into their own forms as if, to use the artist's words, 'these pieces were visitors from another world'. 'IV' vertically leans against the wall, a marbled block of colour, while 'Neon' horizontally twists and strikes its way across the wall.

Handmade to smooth, flawless perfection, these sculptures give no visual clues to their own manufacture, sitting at odds with the industrial processes associated with McCracken's minimalist contemporaries. Pigments and lacquer are mixed by hand and then poured over wooden armatures covered with fibreglass, to then be repeatedly sanded and polished, making these sculptures appear weightless. Scaled just larger than the human body, like Michael Dean's sculptures, these objects occupy the space in relation to those who perceive them. In interviews and sketchbooks McCracken described his sculptures as simultaneously 'materialist and transcendentalist'. They are excessively sensual and yet simultaneously tough; objects of contemplation, in spite of their pared down appearances. Condensing the possibilities of sculpture into single obstructive objects, both claim all of the space that surrounds them as their own, touching the architecture and reflecting back their surrounds to engage material and intellectual realms of perception.

McCracken was born in 1934 in Berkeley, California, and studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. The artist died in 2011. His work gained international attention in the mid 1960s when he turned his attention to sculpture, showing in landmark exhibitions such as Primary Structures (New York 1966) and documenta V (Kassel, 1972) and more recently at Castello di Rivoli in Turin (solo), the Getty, PS1 New York and LA MoCA.

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