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 post-War bronzes to revolutionary screen-prints, collages and bold textile designs, this 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 consistent rejection of aesthetic convention throughout his career. Rarely exhibited drawings, maquettes and sculptures will shed new light on overlooked or lesser known aspects of his work.
The exhibition is presented in four chronological sections and begins with Paolozzi’s groundbreaking early brutalist concrete sculptures including Seagull and Fish (1946), Fish (1946-7) and Blue Fisherman (1946) reunited for the first time since Paolozzi’s debut London exhibitions in 1947. Material from the artist’s influential performative lecture, Bunk! (1952) and examples of textile, fashion and design work including the highly patterned Horrockses Cocktail Dress (1953), are also on display. As an artist and textile design tutor practicing and teaching in post-war Europe, this first section demonstrates Paolozzi’s willingness to reject established artistic practices, expanding the traditional boundaries of art into the realm of popular culture.
Paolozzi continued to experiment with alternative mediums and processes throughout the 1960s, producing pivotal aluminium sculptures such as Diana as an Engine (1963) comprised of brightly coloured parts of machinery and enhanced by references to classical mythology. Highlights also include the four-metre wide Whitworth Tapestry (1967) displayed alongside print portfolios such as As is When (1964-5), demonstrating Paolozzi’s novel use of pattern, colour and everyday culture across different media.
In 1974, Paolozzi was awarded a residency in West Berlin. Inspired by the music of composers, including Charles Ives, and with an interest in linguistics, Paolozzi converted the geometric shapes, modular approaches and rhythmic patterns produced during this active period into intricate reliefs, prints and sculptures, as seen in the series Calcium Light Night (1974-6).
The artist’s innovative approach to exhibition display and curating as artistic strategy is demonstrated in an archival display of the celebrated 1986 exhibition at London’s Museum of Mankind, titled Lost Magic Kingdoms, one of the earliest interventions by a contemporary artist into a public museum collection.
The exhibition closes by exploring Paolozzi’s work in the late 1980s to 90s with key sculptures that demonstrate the artist’s returning interest in figuration, as well as his subversive approach to conventional notions of the multiple art object.
A fully-illustrated publication accompanying the exhibition will include critical writing by respected scholars Hal Foster, Jon Wood and others alongside new research and texts by some of today’s most astute artists, writers and thinkers.
Daniel F. Herrmann, Eisler Curator and Head of Curatorial Studies said: “Eduardo Paolozzi was one of the most prolific, innovative and surprising artists from Britain. Never one to be told what to do, Paolozzi broke all conventions of art and consistently reinvented himself and his work. His voracious appetite for experimental forms, processes and ideas makes Paolozzi’s work so fascinating to contemporary artists today. With its rich connection to post-war British art, the Whitechapel Gallery is delighted to present his work to a new generation of visitors, re-discovering one of the great artists of the 20th century.”
Justine Simons, Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries said “Paolozzi is one of our giants and this show at the Whitechapel Gallery is a long overdue retrospective. Most Londoner’s know his iconic landmark mosaic on the walls of Tottenham Court Road underground, now restored in the new station. But in fact his work spans sculpture, record sleeves, collages, print, textile and fashion design. It will be a great show so don’t miss it!”