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

29 February – 13 May 2012

Exhibition in Gallery 4

McCracken's sculptures ask a fundamental question: 'how do things sit in space?'

“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


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. 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 the sculptures seen in Michael Dean: Government, 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'.

These sculptures 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.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Friday, 10am - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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