In honor of centenary of the birth of the artist known everywhere simply as ‘César’, the Fondation César today announced a transatlantic celebration comprising exhibitions in France and United States over the course of 2021. Working in close collaboration with the Fondation and its President and Executive Director Stéphanie Busuttil-Janssen, galleries Salon 94, New York, and Almine Rech, Paris, will present a series of major exhibitions devoted to the ideas and achievements spanning César’s career.
Organized by Almine Rech, a major survey will take place at the gallery’s Paris location – an historical 18th century mansion in Le Marais – in June and July 2021, as well as an exhibition at Picasso’s former studio in the18th century Château de Boisgeloup in the village of Gisors in Normandy. These exhibitions will be followed in October 2021 with a major survey of César’s radical breakthroughs at Salon 94’s new space in the converted 1913 Beaux Arts landmark mansion of Archer Milton Huntington, designed by architect Ogden Codman. Each of the presentations will bring the radical concepts of César into historical context, to further enrich understanding of one of the 20th century’s most innovative conceptual sculptors.
Born in Marseilles on the first day of January 1921, César Baldaccini rose from humble beginnings to achieve international renown during his lifetime, through his daring explorations of ways in which an artist’s hand can guide, craft, and indelibly imprint the world’s many common industrial materials into a new artistic language. From his earliest experiments in the 1950s, fashioning welded iron and bronze into unconventional interpretations of human and animal forms, to his path-breaking car compressions of the late 1950s and early 60s, through his human imprint works of the 1960s and expansions in glass fiber and polyester resin of the 1970s, César masterfully directed his materials into performative, poetic, powerful objects that seem even now to have been completed only moments ago. In his radical rethinking of classicism and embrace of the world’s astonishing material variety, César helped to move sculptural practice from the ‘modern’ to the ‘contemporary’, challenging accepted notions of what an art object can do and be.
Stéphanie Busuttil-Janssen remarked, “César was fond of saying that he was born a first time in Marseille in 1921, and a second time in Paris in 1946. Paris became his city, Montparnasse and St-Germain-des-Prés his center, and the city’s artists, writers, philosophers, and designers his community. He died in Paris in 1998. But as early as 1960, César exhibited his work in New York, and he returned there many times throughout his life because he felt the energy of New York City was so much in sync with his own spirit. It was for him a place of perpetual dialogue animated by an appreciation of change. Inspired by César’s love of both France and America, the Fondation César is delighted to celebrate the artist’s centenary by supporting these ambitious exhibitions with Galerie Almine Rech and Salon 94. Our shared goal is to bring new generations of people across the bridge that César’s oeuvre creates between the remarkable two cultural centers.”
From December 2017 through March 2018, the Centre Pompidou Paris presented a major retrospective exhibition devoted to César’s full career attracting nearly half a million visitors. ‘César. La Rétrospective’ was conceived by Bernard Blistène, Director of the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris with Bénédicte Ajac, Curatorial Officer at the Musée national d’art moderne.
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, founder and president of Salon 94, said, “César’s classic sculptures are poetic, muscular expressions of the human breath – his iconic Compressions a dense sharp inhale, and his radical Expansions a long slow exhale. Essential. A founder of Nouveau Realism, he takes his place alongside the pioneering artists of the 20th and 21st century whose work will be featured in our gallery’s new building at Central Park, opening this spring. Salon 94 is proud to present this French master’s extraordinary achievements historically and afresh to our audience in New York and beyond.”
Almine Rech, founder and president of Almine Rech gallery, remarked, “I am born in Paris and throughout my youth heard of César, who was already famous. I saw his works very early on and I remember people’s amazement when he invented the first Expansions. They were a revolution in sculpture and for the art world at the time. I am very proud to be showing César work, he had a profound impact on his era through his constant exploration of a field that he made his own and by continually reinventing himself. It’s impressive how in a very personal and original way, he reactivated the discoveries of modern sculpture, especially the assemblage of found objects. I’m also very interested in his dialogue with Picasso, a creative and intellectual reality: they knew each other well, as the beautiful photographs in the sunny south of France they both loved show.”
About the artist ~ César (César Baldaccini, 1921-1998) was born to Italian parents in the Belle de Mai quarter of Marseille, France. At the time, this area of the Mediterranean port city was chaotic and economically depressed, teeming with waves of immigrant populations and the detritus of their lives. The cross section of excess and deprivation that Marseille represented would serve as a significant source of César’s artistic endeavors.
First at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in his city of birth, and later at the school’s main outpost in Paris, César studied classical sculptural and drafting techniques until the late 1940s when he moved into a studio beneath the atelier of Alberto Giacometti. For economic reasons, César began collecting refuse metals and forging them into zoomorphic and anthropomorphic forms. Known as Fers (Irons), these objects acknowledge both the destruction of war and the subsequent reconstruction of Europe (both human and material). The works from this period demonstrate the artist’s fascination with salvaging life from waste and revealing the innumerable lives that lay hidden within material.
In 1960, a scrap metal factory near Paris installed a new American steel press large enough to compress entire automobiles. César was enthralled by the metamorphosis that ensued from his volumetric concentration. He became increasingly convinced that compression produced quintessential monuments to the modern mechanical age. César’s Compressions expressed this line of thinking: to conceive these works, the artist compacted junkyard debris into rough rectangular blocks. These objects were initially interpreted as merely rejecting traditional sculptural processes. Yet César’s creation of Compressions did not simply replace earlier artistic approaches with mechanical operations. rather, these artworks imparted the artist’s unique interest in commingling questions of material, physic, authorship, and context. His dedication to the aesthetic appropriation of reality spoke to the Nouveau Réalistes, so much so that the forerunners of that french art movement made César a second-wave signatory of their manifesto in 1961. In 1967, César began experimenting with a new form of polyurethane foam – a liquid mixture that expands many times larger than its original volume.The resulting works, entitled Expansions, are the ultimate expression of technology meeting life. They convey the possibilities of freedom found within a chemical reaction and a physical gesture. That the material refused to conform to a mold, and continued to transform once poured onto a gallery floor, inspired César to perform the process in public through a series of happenings in the 1960s.
Throughout his career, César explored the potential of fluctuating scale and shape. In particular, the development of plastic polymers in the 60s led the artist in a new direction: he began making casts from human body parts in sizes ranging from miniature to monumental. César created resin reproductions of breasts that span 16 feet in diameter as well as bronze renderings of his own thumb that tower over viewers. These pieces appear to us as simultaneously familiar and alien, intimate and remote, droll and grave.
The 2021 Centenary Celebration for renowned french artist César is expected to be on view at Salon 94’s beautiful new headquarters in the historic 3 East 89th Street, NYC, in October 2021.