A mosaic of pieces of wood painted with patterns which, from their arrangement, look like a painter’s palette. This famous work by Cragg—probably one of the most frequently reproduced—seems to us to be highly ambitious. In spite of the simplicity of the idea and the severity of the object, the universe of references that opens up is boundless. Perhaps we might sum it up by saying that the work is a highly eloquent allegory of Cragg’s concerns—and those of many others in the complex eighties—but it would clearly be a good deal more interesting to analyse it in more detail. On the one hand, it seems obvious that the palette is to be read as a self-portrait of the artist, and not only in the simple way of making an icon like the palette the subject of the work—that would make it a self-portrait of any artist—but most of all the peculiarity—the Cragg style—of building it by joining together different pieces of material. Indeed, this work is a Cragg in the full sense. On the wall—they could also be on the floor—different objects, in their magical encounter, construct the image of a palette. All Cragg’s poetics are contained in this simple operation: the fragments of things cease to be strange scraps and become part—become detail—of a real object. The palette is not just a self-portrait; it also becomes a tautological definition of art: the task of recomposing the world. In the end, that is his reason for presenting his work as an archaeological exercise which is capable of restoring the real. From another perspective, this work, this eulogy of art for its capacity to remake the world, is naturally most suitable for the optimism of the eighties. The same optimism that has made it possible now to construct arguments as apparently contradictory as relating the decade to the period of the historic avant-gardes—in a text on this work, Victòria Combalia relates it to Cubist and Neo-Plastic investigations—and, at the same time, proclaim the rebirth of traditional languages such as painting and sculpture. Indeed, this palette is both at the same time.
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