Keith Milow

Eightieth Cross


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Not on display

Keith Milow born 1945
Glass fibre, polyester resin and wood
Object: 1155 × 870 × 210 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1986

Display caption

Milow made his first cross-shaped relief in 1974; he went on to produce over a hundred such works in a variety of materials. All were originally titled A Cross Between Painting and Sculpture.

There is deliberate ambiguity in these works which can be seen both as religious artefacts and as art objects. In all his crosses, Milow seeks to establish a connection between the object and the architectural space it occupies. Although modestly-sized, they have an impact on relatively large areas of space.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Keith Milow born 1945

T04159 Eightieth Cross 1978

Glass fibre, polyester resin and wood 1155 x 870 x 210 (45 1/2 x 34 1/4 x 8 1/4)
Inscribed ‘80' on back of horizontal support
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1986
Prov: Presented to Contemporary Art Society by the artist 1983
Exh: Just Crosses, Roundhouse Gallery, Aug.-Sept. 1978 (no cat.); Modern British Sculpture: From the Collection, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept. 1988-1991 (no number, repr.)
Lit: Diane Waldman, ‘Keith Milow', British Art Now: An American Perspective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1980, pp.63-79.

In a letter to the compiler dated 3 March 1988 the artist made the following observations about T04159:

This piece was first exhibited at the Roundhouse ‘Just Crosses' show and was not subsequently shown and remained in my possession until I donated it to the C.A.S. The exhibition was documented by ... the Tate Gallery Archive ... and it's my recollection that they took photographs of every work as well as installation shots ... A catalogue was never made for the show.

I have always made notes and sometimes full drawings to accompany my works and in the case of the concrete crosses I made a pattern book of about 100 variations from which the various crosses were drawn. Very occasionally, I return to doing a cross, the last one being made in London in the Summer of 1985 (Nigel Greenwood Gallery).

All told I completed about 140 crosses although many were destroyed, for aesthetic reasons mostly and I have no precise figure for crosses extant, but feel 60-70 % of them remain. Originally I gave the series a ceiling of 100 but this was easily overrun due to momentum and a wish to make up for those already destroyed.

The concrete crosses were always the more accessible of the series but not the most successful and challenging. The concrete versions err too much on the side of art works to the detriment of the stark religious overtones of the earlier plainer works from 1976-1977, thereby compromising any doubt engendered in the spectators as to whether they are confronted by a religious object or an art object; and its only the context (museum or gallery) that forces an ‘art object' reading. In the eightieth cross, this doubt is compromised. I have referred to this work as ‘Eightieth Cross' this being my preferred titling for all the works from the series.

Keith Milow made his first cross-shaped work in 1972. This was a wall painting in Utrecht (Utrechtkring, University of Utrecht, February 1972). He began to make cruciform constructions in 1974, while in New York on a Harkness Fellowship (see Waldman, 1980 p.63). These numbered reliefs, all originally known by the generic title, ‘A Cross Between Painting and Sculpture', were made using a variety of materials, including copper, bronze, iron powder and concrete. T04159 is one of the latter, its surface showing the board marks of shuttered concrete. In these works Milow has extended the basic cross configuration, building up different sorts of surfaces, articulating, expanding or splitting planes. In the letter already quoted above, the artist confirmed that the Tate's work is related to a series of paintings he showed at the Nigel Greenwood Gallery in 1978 (Dedicated to ... ' April 1978) based on the South Bank complex. (This exhibition also contained two simpler crosses with smooth finishes.)

... the texture of the work was very much a consequence of the ‘South Bank' series of paintings. There even exists a ‘South Bank' painting that was painted on shuttered Concrete [Private Collection, London].

Since the 1960s Milow's work in painting, drawing and relief has reflected his continuing interest in architechture. His ‘South Bank' paintings were watercolours based on photographs taken along the South Bank, London, between the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre (see Adrian Lewis, ‘Keith Milow at Nigel Greenwood', Artscribe, no. 12, June 1978, p.58). In relation to T04159 it is interesting to note that the Hayward Gallery (1968), the Queen Elizabeth Hall (1967) and the National Theatre (1976) all have shuttered concrete finishes.

The exhibition at the Roundhouse that included T04159 consisted of approximately 35 crosses, a number of which were arrayed, evenly spaced, along one of the outer, circular walls of the building. The exhibition contained a variety of different types of cross; including a number in grey shuttered concrete like T04159 and others, both large and very small, with copper powder and iron powder finishes or greenish oxidised surfaces. Writing about the works of this period, Fenella Crichton described the many permutations explored by Milow:

He uses the shape of the cross as the basis for an apparently endless number of formal permutations. It is surprising how much it can take. In the room of Just Crosses at the Roundhouse in 1978 the arc of evenly spaced shapes created a solemn and hieratic atmosphere. And in the Ninety Second Cross, which recently won a Tolly Cobbold prize, the particular version heightened the meaning of the cross as instrument of crucifixion: the protrusion of the lower third of the upright suggested a support for the feet. Now, however the formal variations have become increasingly complex and its symbolic associations correspondingly more deeply submerged. Basically the cross has been split down either the transverse or the longitudinal axis, and one or more sections swung outwards. Visually the results of these manoeuvres are fascinating, as the relationships between the parts and the accompanying shadow play are very rich. The neutrality of the material, a greyish mixture of concrete, resin and fibreglass, further encourages us to read them on an abstract level (in Art and Artists, vol.14, January 1980, p.35).

A number of the crosses Milow made between 1976 and 1979 are illustrated in the catalogue for the exhibition, British Art Now: An American Perspective (see for example nos 46, 95, 96, 100, 108 and 110).

Diane Waldman, who organised the exhibition wrote of Milow's crosses:

He uses the cross, much as he has used other images, as an object to build upon, transform and re-create. The cross, however, is a loaded image. Milow neither denies nor encourages its symbolic associations. Milow wishes to maintain a dialogue between the forms and symbols of the real world and pure abstraction. Because his crosses are neither too emphatically symbolic nor too resolutely abstract, they are among his most successful works.

Trained primarily as a painter but intensely interested in architecture, especially in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Milow attempts in his crosses to work with the space of the object and the space the object occupies, with the anchoring of real space with real objects (p.63).

Milow's last one-man exhibition in London prior to moving to New York in 1980, was held at the Rowan Gallery (Crosses, November 1979). This exhibition included five shuttered concrete crosses, ‘One Hundred and Fourteenth Cross', ‘One Hundred and Fifteenth Cross', ‘One Hundred and Sixteenth Cross', ‘One Hundred and Seventeenth Cross', ‘One Hundred and Eighteenth Cross', (each 1142 x 902 x 305, 45 x 35 1/2 x 12 inches and dated 1979). In addition, the exhibition introduced a new theme, the cenotaph (based on the Lutyens war memorial in Whitehall) or tomb. Like his ‘Crosses', Milow's ‘Cenotaphs' are reliefs, which also bear strong religious, commemorative and architectural associations.

T04159 was made by the artist in his North London studio.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.211-13

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