Teresa Monachino

An End­less Set of Com­bi­na­tions

The London Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Ed­uardo Paolozzi, Whitechapel Gallery, un­til 14 May 2017

Ed­uardo Paolozzi (1924–2005) was one of the most in­no­va­tive and ir­rev­er­ent Bri­tish artists of the 20th cen­tury. Con­sid­ered the god­fa­ther of Pop Art, his pow­er­ful col­lages, sculp­tures and prints chal­lenged artis­tic con­ven­tion from the 1950s ‘Ge­om­e­try of Fear’ all the way through the Swing­ing Six­ties and on to the ad­vent of Cool Bri­tan­nia in the 1990s. From his post­war bronzes to rev­o­lu­tion­ary screen prints, col­lages and bold tex­tile de­signs, the Whitechapel Gallery’s ma­jor ret­ro­spec­tive aims to re­assess Paolozzi’s var­ied and ex­per­i­men­tal artis­tic ap­proach, and high­light the rel­e­vance of his work for artists to­day. Span­ning five decades and fea­tur­ing more than 250 works from pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions, the ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses on the artist’s rad­i­cal ex­plo­rations of ma­te­rial and form, pro­cesses and tech­nolo­gies, and his con­sis­tent re­jec­tion of aes­thetic con­ven­tion through­out his ca­reer. Rarely ex­hib­ited draw­ings, ma­que­ttes and sculp­tures shed new light on over­looked or lesser known as­pects of his work. - Ex­tracted from the Whitechapel Gallery Press Re­lease

I asked the cu­ra­tor of the Whitechapel Gallery’s Ed­uardo Paolozzi ex­hi­bi­tion, Daniel F. Her­rmann, if the artist would have ap­proved of his show, to which Her­rmann replied, ‘that would de­pend on whether every­one else likes it.’ And right there is the rub with Paolozzi: he is still rather baf­flingly un­der­rated. Then again, he was an artist who spent a life­time con­found­ing the critics, so per­haps that should not be so sur­pris­ing. While he may have been in­ter­ested to hear that vis­i­tors liked his show, Paolozzi would not have cared less about the pun­dits. Speak­ing of which, one of the high­lights of the Whitechapel show is Paolozzi’s Jeep­ers Creep­ers, an in­stal­la­tion from 1972. For me, this piece is the stuff of legend, be­cause

when Frank Whit­ford and the film­maker Mur­ray Grigor came to­gether at the in­stal­la­tion of the Tate’s 1971 ret­ro­spec­tive, Paolozzi, who was friends with both men, asked them: ‘Can you two paint the clowns? Any colour you like.’ And they both im­me­di­ately set to work, paint­ing clowns in bright, gaudy colours. The artist had made a se­lec­tion of works es­pe­cially for the 1971 show, and this was one of them: a row of some two dozen plas­ter clowns, gar­den-gnome­like in ap­pear­ance, ar­ranged be­low an enor­mous candy-striped can­vas. Paolozzi re­ferred to them col­lec­tively as ‘the critics’. A rather prom­i­nent de­nun­ci­a­tion of mod­ern art, Jeep­ers Creep­ers aimed to mock the spare stripe paint­ings of Paolozzi’s con­tem­po­raries, such as Ken­neth Noland. He claimed to be nau­se­ated by large ab­stract can­vases, declar­ing that he could im­prove the ab­stract min­i­mal­ist paint­ings of his peers by ‘adding some­thing here and there’: hence the cho­rus line of clown critics. Grigor re­mem­bers be­ing with Paolozzi at the dis­man­tling of the ex­hi­bi­tion, a month or so later, when he met the then Tate di­rec­tor, Sir Nor­man Reid. As they passed Jeep­ers Creep­ers Sir Nor­man re­marked, ‘I ex­pect we just junk that?’ ‘No!’ said Ed­uardo, ‘That one is go­ing to Dundee.’ The cat­a­logue of the 1971 Tate show sadly does not in­clude an im­age of the clown in­stal­la­tion as, at the time of go­ing to press, the piece was still a work in progress. I have to won­der what hap­pened to the now white (un­painted) clowns on their jour­ney to Scot­land: did the trip north of Hadrian’s Wall pale the poor ‘critics’? The Tate ret­ro­spec­tive was not a suc­cess for the gallery, and there has been pre­cious lit­tle in the way of ma­jor ex­po­sure for the artist since the mid-Seven­ties; ac­cord­ingly, the Whitechapel cat­a­logue boasts that this is the first sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­na­tional ret­ro­spec­tive of Paolozzi’s work since the 1975 ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tion­al­ga­lerie in Ber­lin.

My first visit to the Whitechapel show was on the morn­ing of the press view. I joined the cu­ra­tor and a size­able crowd as they were half­way through their tour. While I am not al­ways keen to at­tend th­ese view­ings, in ad­di­tion to the advantage of oc­ca­sion­ally hav­ing the place more or less to my­self, I con­fess to find­ing other peo­ple’s ques­tions rather in­ter­est­ing; in par­tic­u­lar, the frames of ref­er­ence that they at­tach to the things they see in­trigues me. On this oc­ca­sion, we were on the up­stairs floor of the Whitechapel, set­tled in front of Diana as an En­gine I, a mes­meric shin­ing painted alu­minium totem,

which in­vokes Diana, the Ro­man god­dess of the hunt, in a style Paolozzi called ‘his­tor­i­cal images re-in­ter­preted to mod­ern re­quire­ments’. Asked in 1957 why he had never pre­vi­ously made a fe­male fig­ure, Paolozzi an­swered: ‘maybe it is be­cause of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. One lives through the sculp­ture, though one doesn’t think that.’ When the story was re­lated at the Whitechapel, the ab­sence of fe­male fig­ures in the oeu­vre to that point ob­vi­ously struck a chord with one young woman in the group, who asked the cu­ra­tor if Paolozzi was gay. His re­sponse was a rather be­wil­dered: ‘I don’t think so.’

Keen to start right at the be­gin­ning, I made my way back down­stairs to a now al­most empty gallery. One ex­hibit im­me­di­ately caught my eye, stop­ping me in my tracks, and for good rea­son: I had an­other ex­am­ple of ex­actly the same piece, care­fully wrapped in my overnight bag, that I in­tended to un­veil later in the day, at the pri­vate view. Per­haps I was be­ing naive in think­ing that this par­tic­u­lar work would not be on show. Any­way, as a re­sult of a half-dare/half-bet, I had brought it with me, hav­ing been told it was ‘what Ed­uardo would have wanted.’ The pri­vate view was held that evening, and the time came to make good on my wa­ger. I walked from Shored­itch with a small group of Paolozzi pals, and ar­rived at the gallery a lit­tle late, just as Ni­cole Farhi and her hus­band, David Hare, were leav­ing. The ex­cite­ment ex­ploded at the en­trance. I gave my name to the door at­ten­dant and, as I took off my coat, she half-screamed: ‘Oh my God you’re wear­ing our dress!’ I sup­pose that is what is known as mak­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of one­self. Much to every­one’s sur­prise and amuse­ment, I was in­deed wear­ing one of the ex­hibits. A piece worn by the Queen on her corona­tion tour of the Com­mon­wealth, it was a printed cot­ton cock­tail dress, de­signed by John Tullis, and made by Hor­rock­ses Fash­ion in 1953 out of cloth de­signed by Paolozzi. En­ti­tled In­sects’ Wings, the fab­ric is printed in the bright­est yel­low, with the sig­na­ture pat­terns of dots and dashes that Paolozzi used in many of his early 1950s prints and tex­tile de­signs. The de­sign has been com­pared to mu­si­cal scores, aerial views of cities, and the new com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works that were com­ing into be­ing at the time. I was told sev­eral times, in sev­eral ways, on a slid­ing scale of pleas­ant to preda­tor, that it was good to see the dress ‘fleshed out’. True, the man­nequin was rather flat, no doubt on ac­count of the post­war ra­tioning that was

still go­ing on in the early Fifties. Ap­pro­pri­ately, given the name of the tex­tile print, I found my­self hov­er­ing and buzzing around the re­cep­tion desk as a very fa­mil­iar but ut­terly bizarre sight came into view. There, propped up by the great An­to­nio Car­luc­cio, was a ter­ra­cotta like­ness of Ed­uardo: a crudely sculpted head, com­plete with flat-iron hair and toothy ex­pres­sion. As Car­luc­c­cio was in deep con­ver­sa­tion with the cu­ra­tor, I de­cided to try to catch up with him later, when the god­fa­ther of Ital­ian gas­tron­omy in the U.K. would per­haps be free to fill me in on this ex­tra­or­di­nary por­trait.

Through­out the ex­hi­bi­tion, de­spite its lin­ear chronol­ogy, there is a strong sense of Paolozzi’s prin­ci­ple that art is char­ac­terised by ‘an end­less set of com­bi­na­tions’. Each one of the ex­hibits could be moved around and dis­played at will to make new nar­ra­tives. Mak­ing my way through the gallery, I could not help but feel that I was em­body­ing that spirit as tex­tile de­sign fleet­ingly met bronze, alu­minium, ce­ram­ics, plas­ter and wood. The mix­ing of medi­ums and ma­te­ri­als is typ­i­cal Paolozzi. He re­jected any tra­di­tional hi­er­ar­chy in the arts that might, for ex­am­ple, give paint­ing or sculp­ture a loftier sta­tus than tex­tiles, print­mak­ing or mo­saic. Be­ing on pa­rade was fun for about half an hour or so, un­til con­stantly be­ing stopped and asked for photographs got a lit­tle bit wear­ing. De­spite the heat of the gallery, I there­fore re­trieved my coat, de­cid­ing to swel­ter rather than re­main the cen­tre of at­ten­tion a mo­ment longer. Be­sides, I had ful­filled my obli­ga­tion.

I did not catch up with An­to­nio Car­luc­cio – not that evening, any­way – but he left the ter­ra­cotta head perched on a chair be­hind the re­cep­tion desk, where it looked most odd and a lit­tle bit sad. Sens­ing a story (how could it be oth­er­wise?), I dropped Car­luc­cio a line in the post, ask­ing if he would tell me about the piece. Two weeks later we met at the Chelsea Arts Club for lunch, and for the un­rav­el­ling of the tale of the ter­ra­cotta head. I have never met a friend of Ed­uardo’s that I have not liked enor­mously. I be­lieve that there are two types of friend­ship: con­tex­tual ones, which are more tran­sient, and those based on shared val­ues. Ed­uardo’s friend­ship val­ues were hon­esty, hu­mil­ity, wit and gen­eros­ity, and Car­luc­cio has them all in cater­ing-sized la­dles. So sim­i­lar are they in tem­per­a­ment and warmth, that I felt as though I were sit­ting chat­ting with Ed­uardo again. I later found out that Car­luc­cio had ar­rived at the club early, and so had pre­sented him­self to

the kitchen as an ex­tra pair of hands, much to their delight and dis­be­lief. In 1992 Car­luc­cio and Paolozzi took part in a BBC chal­lenge for which they ex­changed jobs for a week: Car­luc­cio taught Paolozzi how to cook the per­fect po­lenta with ragu of rab­bit, and in ex­change Paolozzi taught Car­luc­cio how to sculpt. The re­sult­ing sculp­tures were then fired at the Sculp­ture School at the Royal Col­lege of Art, where Ed­uardo was teach­ing at the time. The ter­ra­cotta head I had seen at the Whitechapel was one of them.

It was at the RCA foundry in Kens­ing­ton, while cast­ing her first bronze, that Ni­cole Farhi, fash­ion de­signer turned sculp­tor, caught the eye of Paolozzi, and so be­gan their re­la­tion­ship of men­tor and friend. Farhi re­calls:

I would of­ten go to Ed­uardo’s stu­dio, and he would show me how he was con­struct­ing his work by as­sem­bling pre­pared pieces: de­con­struct­ing the whole, and then re­build­ing it as if a ma­chine, and not the hand of man, were at work ... One of the first things he taught me was al­ways to leave an un­fin­ished piece in the stu­dio to go back to the next day.

I have to say that, as a de­signer, this was one of the most valu­able pieces of ad­vice he gave me too: the im­por­tance of al­low­ing a piece of work to ‘salt down’ as he so de­scrip­tively put it. This con­stant re­vis­it­ing and re­vis­ing of work is ev­i­dent through­out the Whitechapel show. The last room, which does not feel like the end of the ex­hi­bi­tion at all, con­tains a long heavy work­bench, on which are placed a va­ri­ety of ma­que­ttes and sculp­tures; th­ese are viewed by an au­di­ence (fac­ing them) made up of strik­ing bronze heads, all placed in­di­vid­u­ally on ratchet plinths. ‘Mak­ery’, to coin a word, is very much to the fore here, and one gets the im­pres­sion that, even though th­ese works form part of a ret­ro­spec­tive, they are still very much be­ing worked on – noth­ing is fi­nal. In­deed, Paolozzi viewed the fi­nal­is­ing of an art­work as an act of be­trayal, and em­braced the play­ful­ness in rep­e­ti­tion: the child­like im­pulse to ‘do it again’ that em­pha­sises the mak­ing of copies and it­er­a­tions of a piece, rather than con­sign­ing it to a pedestal. He sought to get away from the orig­i­nal ‘art ob­ject’, em­brac­ing ‘art process’ in­stead.

This ret­ro­spec­tive is clut­tered, and I am very happy in­deed to say that this

is so. It feels like a mu­seum rather than a gallery, and for that rea­son the show does a great job of catch­ing the essence of the artist. Spirit and na­ture are so of­ten lack­ing in ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign, where the hang and the light­ing are the only con­sid­er­a­tions. On a 2001 trip to the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in Paris, I was so struck by the Hitch­cock et L’art ex­hi­bi­tion, which was ex­traor­di­nar­ily thrilling and at­mo­spheric, that I was re­duced to a state of anx­i­ety on ac­count of the fact that my Paris ho­tel room had no bath, only a shower: a fact that had been of no con­se­quence be­fore I saw the show. At the Whitechapel I very much liked the fact that, while lim­i­ta­tions of space meant they could not ac­com­mo­date any large-scale work, the com­pres­sion of the dis­play is very much in the spirit of Paolozzi.

Hang­ing on the wall of my stu­dio is an artist’s proof of Ed­uardo’s Blue­prints for a New Mu­seum. I also have a few of the artist’s scrap­books, with var­i­ous snip­pets of this same col­lage pasted into the pages: with a Lao­coön here and a rocket ship there, this is the artist’s very own take on col­lect­ing and cu­rat­ing. That in­ter­est is also played out in mo­saic form at Tot­ten­ham Court Road Un­der­ground Sta­tion, at least in the 95% of the work that re­mains in situ. The other 5% has re­cently been con­tro­ver­sially re­moved as part of the sta­tion’s Cross­rail ex­pan­sion, and there are plans to re­con­struct it, over the next few years, at the Ed­in­burgh Col­lege of Art, where Paolozzi stud­ied in 1943 and later be­came a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor. The idea is that it will even­tu­ally go on pub­lic dis­play – a re­lo­ca­tion that the Scot­tish press laugh­ingly head­lined as the mo­saics ‘com­ing home’. Their home was Tot­ten­ham Court Road Un­der­ground Sta­tion, and they are no more at home in Ed­in­burgh than Ed­uardo was at the time when they were made. I also la­ment the loss of The Artist as Hephaes­tus from London’s streets – High Hol­born to be pre­cise, and thereby hangs an­other sorry tale. If the Whitechapel had had space to in­clude this piece, pro­vided they could have tracked it down, it would have gone some way to­wards ad­dress­ing the lack of mon­u­men­tal works within an oth­er­wise ex­cel­lent ex­hi­bi­tion. In 1990 Paolozzi do­nated a full-sized plas­ter and poly­styrene ver­sion of this self-por­trait in the guise of the Greek god of black­smiths to the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery. This also would have been a joy to see.

Any­one ex­pect­ing to visit the Whitechapel Gallery to view an ex­hi­bi­tion

by a Pop Artist will have had their eyes opened by the show, which con­tains an enor­mous out­pour­ing of in­ven­tive­ness, of imag­in­ing and re-imag­in­ing, of mak­ing and break­ing and re­con­struct­ing, that has far more in com­mon with Sur­re­al­ism than with Pop Art, on which sub­ject the fi­nal word must go to Sir Ed­uardo Paolozzi:

It’s eas­ier for me to iden­tify with that tra­di­tion than to al­low my­self to be de­scribed by some term, in­vented by oth­ers, called ‘Pop’, which im­me­di­ately means that you dive into a bar­rel of Coca-Cola bot­tles. What I like to think I’m do­ing is an ex­ten­sion of rad­i­cal Sur­re­al­ism.

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