Baldaccini César, French (1921 - 1998)


Cesar is considered as perhaps the greatest innovator among modern artists. His work is astonishing in it's range, use of varied materials, and originality. In 1960, he fundamentally altered the course of metal sculpture by inventing the automobile compression. His grand scale human "imprints" represented the first use of plastic as an accepted medium for sculptural expression. In the late 1960's he again manifested his explosive innovativeness when he first came upon the expressive potentialities of of polyurethane frames, which were richly fulfilled in his ebulent expansions. Cesars's expressive junk sculpture, his distinctive crystal sculptures, his plaques (Bas Reliefs) his envahissements (objects covered with plastic or metal), and his successful jewelry compressions further demonstrate his impressive virtuosity and versatility.

César’s Compressions, Expansions, beasts, breasts, figures, collages, self-portraits and giant thumbs have shocked and delighted art fans for years. He is France’s most celebrated living sculptor. His major retrospective show has just completed with record-breaking attendance stops in Seoul, Taipei and at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris

César Baldaccini’s (1921 - 1998) extraordinary life and career began in the Marseille ghetto of Belle-de-Mai where he and his twin sister were born on January 1, 1921. At age 13 young César left school to work with his father in the wine business. At 15, César’s mother encouraged him to enroll in night classes at the local art school, where he rapidly distinguished himself. He soon found himself at the Ecole des Beaus-Arts in Paris.

Moving to Paris in 1943, César lived above Giacometti’s studio. "I’d leave for school in the morning, and when I’d return in the evening I’d see Picasso, Cocteau, Boris Vian or Sartre through the glass skylight. Giacometti would leave his studio door open, I was able to view his studio."

In 1955 César’s work was shown for the first time in the Salon de Mai. The following October, art critic Michel Tapie presented 15 of this soldered beasts and figures with paintings by COBRA artist Karel Appel at the Galerie Rive Droite. All his sculptures were sold to collectors, museums and the City of Paris. Articles appeared in Vogue and the French art review L’Oeil, and he was invited to show at the prestigious Biennale in Venice. César’s career was launched.

In a 1957 interview with Pierre Volboudt for XXe Siecle magazine, César spoke of the creative process behind his work: "I start with an idea. That is the beginning of the adventure. I continue in that direction until I encounter a separate reality that is detached from me and exists in the material and its surrounding space. . . It’s as though something else was asking to exist, to be whatever it wants to be. For example, a fish would become a different character if it suddenly grew legs. A work can always become something else."

Several years later, Parisians discovered that three solid blocks of compressed cars could become works of art. César’s Compression sculptures captured the public’s attention at the 1960 Salon de Mai. The Compressions were a new departure for César that would bring him international fame.

One day César viewed a documentary film about America. One segment showed a surrealistic dump yard with mountains of cars. A giant crane with magnets transported and fed wrecked cars into a press. Once compressed, the cars were stacked. César was entranced by the extraordinary palette of colorful metal blocks. "Although I had received a classical academic training, my vision changed through my work with scrap iron. I entered the factory world and learned to approach recuperated materials in their own language."

César’s work with a giant press in a French factory rapidly established his reputation in the international art world. He was soon off to New York to prepare a one-man show at the Saidenberg Gallery. Simultaneous exhibits for several New Realist artists had been organized in New York galleries that year. Pop Art was the major American trend and many saw a more intellectual French equivalent in works produced by the 13 artists associated with Pierre Restany’s New Realist Manifesto. Restany’s claimed that "New Realism artists simply registered socilogical reality without any controversial intention." However, the dramatic effects of César’s Compressions, Arman’s Accumulations, Yves Klein’s blue monochromes and Tinguely’s nonsensical machines were getting attention. Works by New Realist artists quickly became cultural icons, subject to comparison with art by their English and American counterparts.

César found himself in New York for shows with Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely "With the coming of WW II we saw the art center shift from Paris to New York. During the war years there were many French artists living in New York. They had an important role in the art scene. After the war, things changed. Today, contemporary French artists are not really known in the United States."

César himself appears to be an exception to this rule. His works are in public and private collections around the world. His extensive research with the flowing, lave-like qualities of new plastic substances are easily recognizable in Expansions that were once described as a "giant squirt of toothpaste sitting on the gallery floor."

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