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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Germany
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A pivotal member of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, César’s pioneering sculptural work shocked his contemporary audiences through the scale of his totemic sculptures and seemingly unyielding artistic materials. His seminal Compressions series challenged existing notions of sculpture; focusing on materials plucked from the urban and industrial environment which enveloped him and his contemporaries, the artist subverted traditional expectations of medium, form and representation. Created in 1969, the present work was executed one year after César’s influential trip to London, during which he twice visited a scrap yard in Wood Lane, crushing and compressing forty to fifty car doors, alloys, wheel-hubs, bumpers and bonnets. A selection of these works were exhibited at Tate and remain housed in the museum’s permanent collection. The present work is a monumental example of César’s bales of twisted and distorted metal, quintessentially celebrating his continued exploration of scrap as a medium throughout his larger oeuvre.

    Scouring Parisian scrap yards for urban detritus, César sought to utilise discarded materials, which in their former life had commanded an integral purpose in the quotidian lives of their previous owners. In 1960, during an expedition to a salvage yard to find material for his sculptural practice, César first witnessed a hydraulic compressor squashing and packing colossal metal parts. Friend and founder of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, Pierre Restany, remarked, ‘In a factory for the salvaging of metals in the suburbs of Paris I saw César in front of one of the latest American compressors, supervising the movements of the cranes, proportioning the heterogeneous loads eagerly awaiting the result of each operation. Together we admired these calibrated bales weighing nearly a ton which are the product of the compression of a small lorry, a pile of bicycles or of a gigantic set of kitchen scales’ (Pierre Restany quoted in Denyse Durand-Ruel, César. Catalogue Raisonné. vol I: 1947-1964, Paris, 1994, p. 266). In the same year, César exhibited three compressions created from cars and automobiles at the 16th Salon de Mai, sparking huge interest in his monolithic sculptures. Engaging directly with reality, César and his fellow Nouveau Réalists, as well as his American artistic contemporaries such as John Chamberlain, sought to continue the dialogue surrounding the ‘ready-made’. However, they created an entirely new sculptural syntax through their progressive urban and industrial inquiry.

    Contorted, bent and twisted, Compression de tonneaux’s heavy mass is unwavering in its imposing presence. Substantial and seemingly immovable, César manipulates the history of the object without eradicating it entirely. Challenging the idea of mass production and throw-away culture, César’s panels of primary coloured metals remind us of slick, polished advertising boards and panels, spray painted and veneered to perfection. Ridges and deep folds create a profound gestural tension, torsion coursing through the solidity of the compression. ‘More awesome than funny, these strangely expressive totems do something to lift the sense of oppression which our efficient, functional environment breeds in our hearts’ (Sam Hunter in Denyse Durand-Ruel, César. Catalogue Raisonné. vol I: 1947-1964, Paris, 1994, p. 288).


Compression de tonneaux

signed 'César' lower edge
compressed metal
126 x 61 x 61 cm (49 5/8 x 24 x 24 in.)
Executed in 1969, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed and dated by the artist and is registered in the Denyse Durand-Ruel Archives under no. 7840. This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné which is being prepared by Denyse Durand-Ruel.

£250,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 29 June 2017