18 Feet of Undulating Ambiguity
You can’t wrap your mind around Tony Cragg’s downtown sculpture. Maybe you don’t need to.
“The nature of really serious art, is that you don’t know what you’re looking at.”
Since Cezanne artists have tried to get rid of all the explanations that can get in the way of having an experience — the taxing, dreary, and finally futile process we go through to make sense out of the world. Or as artist Tony Cragg puts it, “We impoverish everything we touch. And I think art and sculpture is way of reminding ourselves of what other possibilities there are, and what other forms there are.”
His work Mixed Feelings, one of the 22 sculptures exhibited on Wisconsin Avenue, stands 18 feet high. Cragg’s sculpture flares in the afternoon light angling down the avenue. Undulating ambiguous forms in bright gold no less. A startling juxtaposition in form and tone to the formal gray Federal Building next door.
It’s globular layering keeps the mind slipping and sliding. A big dramatic nothing, and that’s the joy of it. Not being able to wrap your mind around something is the gift of Modern Art.
That’s pretty much all there is to what Cragg is doing on the southwest corner of Jackson and Wisconsin Avenue. Cragg wants us to put the “fullness of the world” aside. It’s not “a mirror that shows us the fullness of the world we live in,” as Sculpture Milwaukee’s website says.
Cragg carries forth Modern Art’s dispute with cognition. Between what we think we see and what we see when we stop thinking. To echo Cragg, “Meaning impoverishes everything we touch.”
Content dulls the mind. Mixed Feelings is a mental state. It empties us of the preconceptions and assumptions that structure experience so we can drive, mate, and get a mortgage.
But this out-of-context experience can’t last long. It’s just a glimpse. A fleeting moment and then we are back looking at the lines in the road, staying in our lane which mirrors the world we have to live in.