Michael Craig-Martin

Four identical boxes with lids revealed - in different colours - not executed


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Not on display
Michael Craig-Martin born 1941
Crepe tape on paper
Support: 443 x 570 mm
Purchased 2011


Four identical boxes with lids revealed – in different colours – not executed 1969 is a drawing depicting the outlines of four boxes in a line, executed by hand in orange, green, yellow and blue crepe tape on isometric graph paper. The drawing shows an open view and a closed view of these four identically sized boxes, each with a different lid that has been cut half way up the surface. The lid dimension has been adjusted differently each time according to a mathematical sequence and the order of the lids along the line has then been reversed to create a visual confusion. The drawing is a companion piece to the black and white drawing of the same subject also in Tate’s collection, Drawing of ‘4 Identical Boxes with Lids Reversed’ 1969 (Tate T01158). Both were conceived as proposals for the sculpture 4 Identical Boxes with Lids Reversed 1969 (Tate T01153), which the artist executed in plywood painted a pale grey. As the title of this drawing indicates, a coloured version of this sculpture was not executed.

Drawing has played an important and constant role in Craig-Martin’s practice. He made a number of drawings that relate to his box sculptures of the late 1960s, not all of which were realised. Some of these drawings were shown in his first solo show at the Rowan Gallery, London in 1969. Soon after making these box sculptures, Craig-Martin abandoned making three-dimensional objects to concentrate on creating images of real objects through drawing. The artist has commented on his early drawing technique:

Most of these early drawings were done on types of graph paper, particularly axonometric. Many artists have enjoyed drawing on graph paper as the surface is already visually active before one makes a mark. It was at this time that I first discovered the very fine crepe drawing tape that was central to my work with the wall drawings in the late 1970s.
(Quoted in Alan Cristea Gallery 2011, p.7.)

These drawings prefigure Craig-Martin’s later wall drawings in their use of outline and a deliberately ‘style-less’, objective manner. As the artist has explained: ‘I was trying to remove my hand from the process in order to make a representation of an object that was as ordinary and manufactured looking as the objects themselves’ (quoted in Alan Cristea Gallery 2011, p.8).

For this early body of work, Craig-Martin selected the simple box format in order to explore an object that was ‘by nature down to earth, utilitarian, familiar, ordinary’ (quoted in Alan Cristea Gallery 2011, p.8). The object’s mundane nature allows attention to be focused on the way Craig-Martin has manipulated the same shape through a mathematical sequence of alterations to the lid. This process enacts his proposition that art embodies, rather than symbolises, an idea:

I do not believe that the art object is the symbol of the art idea. It is its embodiment. The relation of idea to object is directly equivalent to the relation of colour, or material, or scale to object. They are all basically formal i.e. internally determined considerations. I feel that the idea achieves or fails to achieve credence and significance from this relation. The idea of itself can be simple, even banal, and yet give rise to provocative form, which in turn raises the significance of the idea.
(Quoted in Alan Cristea Gallery 2011, p.8.)

Craig-Martin moved to Britain from the United States in the summer of 1966, and his early box works reflect his close interest in American minimalism. This interest was enhanced by the Primary Structures exhibition, which opened at the Jewish Museum shortly before he left New York and included the work of Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Sol LeWitt. Craig-Martin’s interest extended to the way in which the ordinary reality of objects and how they are perceived can be altered through deceptively simple formal adjustments. He also practised more philosophical plays on meaning, as seen in An Oak Tree 1973 (Tate L02262).

By the early 1970s, Craig-Martin was associated with the development of a British strand of conceptual art, and during this time he began to concentrate on text works and drawings rather than sculpture. However, he saw little distinction between his sculptures and his later work which is predominantly drawing-based, describing his wall drawings as ‘essentially sculpture without mass’ (quoted in Cork 2006, p.73).

Further reading
Michael Craig-Martin, Drawing the Line: Reappraising Drawing Past and Present, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1995.
Richard Cork, Michael Craig-Martin, London 2006.
Michael Craig-Martin: Drawings 1967–2002, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2011.

Katharine Stout
July 2011

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