Contemporary Art Market: Expensive detour links science with surrealism

TWO USELESS machines in the shape of 18th-century telescopes with surrealist feet underline the message at the heart of much of Tony Cragg's work - that most people are ignorant of the scientific processes shaping our environment.

The massive steel instruments on show at the Lisson Gallery (52- 54 Bell Street, London NW1) represent an expensive departure for the artist. Standing 8ft (2.4 metres) and 5ft high respectively, with feet fashioned like hens' claws, an inverted human hand and a crocodile's foot, the telescopes are striking and romantic evocations of the struggle to unlock the mysteries of the stars.

But they required the help of precision instrument makers to fabricate and such processes are expensive, putting the cost of the telescopes at pounds 220,000.

At the other end of the spectrum the show includes a piece called Bromide Figures which involved nothing more difficult than glueing glass vessels together and painting them with yellow varnish ( pounds 28,000). It is like an architectural model of magic minarets, brought engagingly down to earth by the recognisable components - salad bowls, demijohns and chemistry flasks.

The other three pieces in the show are priced under pounds 100,000, again reflecting the relative complexity of their creation - cast bronze, carved limestone and found wooden objects densely covered with coathooks.

Cragg's creative imagination, which won him the Turner Prize and British representation at the Venice Biennale in 1988, seems to be buzzing as vividly as ever.

The Marlborough Gallery (at 6 Albemarle Street W1) is also showing new work by one of the 'greats': Paula Rego, the Portuguese-born, British adopted, limner of modern nightmares.

It is her first commercial show since her National Gallery exhibition closed in February and has been a virtual sell-out. Only 4 out of 28 watercolours priced between pounds 4,500 and pounds 25,000 were left unsold one week after the opening.

Her exploration of the horrid undercurrents below the surface of human relations have led to her work being compared with Goya's and the National Gallery endorsed her Old Master status in 1990 by making her its first associate artist.

The new show is devoted to watercolours made in Portugal last summer and a set of colour etchings illustrating the story of Peter Pan.

The etchings were commissioned by the Folio Society to illustrate a special edition of J M Barrie's play and are priced between pounds 500 and pounds 1,500.

Anyone who wants a complete set of the etchings contained, with a copy of the book, in a hand- made box by Charles Gledhill, has to fork out pounds 11,000; only 25 of these special sets have been made.

Art investors who want a laugh, however, should 'hightail it over to the Gibson place and catch up with the brand new batch of Baxters', as the caption to one of the new drawings by Glen Baxter at Thomas Gibson Fine Art (44 Old Bond Street W1) puts it.

Baxter combines cowboy cartoons with unexpected situations and deadpan captions. For instance, Hank's tour of the Louvre was usually completed in slightly under eighteen minutes shows a cowboy on horseback galloping past the pictures.

The drawings vary from pounds 1,250 to pounds 6,000 according to size.

(Photograph omitted)

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