The Romanian born artist Paul Neagu (1938-2004) demanded that sculpture be appreciated by all five senses. For Neagu, encountering art with touch, smell, taste and sound was as important as vision - a belief that he boldly declared in his 1969 Palpable Art Manifesto. This summer, the Henry Moore Institute presents the most comprehensive exhibition of Neagu's work the British public has ever seen.
Featuring over 100 works from public and private collections and stretching across three gallery spaces, Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture proposes a phenomenological understanding of sculpture. The exhibition includes sculptures, drawings, films, texts and archival material, much of which has never previously been exhibited, demonstrating Neagu's significant contribution to the narrative of British sculpture.
Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture celebrates multi-sensory encounters with sculpture, showing two decades of art making encompassing tactile boxes and edible sculptures, performances and fictional collaborators, object making and drawings. In his performances Neagu sought to defy gravity, while his drawings are simultaneously preparatory works, documentation, assimilation and artworks. In his objects Neagu created systems of thought based on his understanding of the human body as a simple container, with his exhibitions conceived as dialogues and experiments.
Paul Neagu graduated from Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Fine Arts, Bucharest in 1965, training in painting under the constraints of a socialist realist syllabus that prioritised figurative painting over abstraction and sculpture. Soon after completing his studies he started to make tactile objects, developing a unique artistic vocabulary with a visionary approach to sculpture. Under the wing of the Edinburgh gallerist Richard Demarco, Neagu travelled from Romania to Great Britain in 1969. On the journey he penned his Palpable Art Manifesto, announcing that 'palpable art is a new joy for the "blind", while for the "clear-sighted" it is the most thoroughly three-dimensional study.'
In spring 1970 Neagu left Romania, then a closed communist country under the leadership of Nicolae Ceauşescu. After a few months in Edinburgh, he made London his home, becoming a British citizen in 1977. In London his work was first seen at Sigi Krauss Gallery in 1971 where he presented 'Cake Man', an edible sculpture event. This was followed by solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery (1973), Modern Art Oxford (1975) and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1979), with each exhibition carefully constructed by Neagu himself. In 1979 his work was included in the very first British Art Show; in 2015 British Art Show 8 is presented at Leeds Art Gallery, alongside Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture. As well as being a sculptor who recalibrated what art could be, Neagu was an inspirational teacher. He began teaching in 1973, first at Hornsey School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art, teaching some of Britain's most successful sculptors, including Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread.
Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture spans 1968 to 1986, closing when he completed 'Nine Catalytic Stations,' a sculpture that summarised his complex philosophical ideas. The exhibits have been gathered from the UK, Ireland, Romania and Vienna, some from public collections, including Tate, National Galleries of Scotland, V&A, Leeds Museums and Galleries, and the Laing Art Gallery, others from private collections, Neagu having gifted his work to close friends. Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture reveals how over two decades of art-making Neagu's constant testing of ideas made a unique contribution to the study of sculpture.