Luxembourg & Dayan—the Upper East Side gallery known for accentuating the 20th-century European art—is currently hosting one of the most pertinent names fitting into this niche. Born in France in 1929 to Italian parents, César (full name César Baldaccini) is considered one of the preeminent members of Nouveaux réalisme, an avant-garde movement from the 60s known to introduce artists such as Arman, Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely into the global arena. Although César was one of the key figures in the movement, his fame overseas remained modest compared to other leading figures. Often defined as Europe’s response to Pop Art or as the next Dada, this highly influential movement gained momentum under the influence of Europe’s industrialization project, offering a fresh viewpoint of an era that was rapidly transforming in response to mechanization, consumerism and urbanization. Pursuing traces from the buoyancy within life, César and his contemporaries put their focus on off-beat components of everyday life and employed unorthodox materials among which were discarded goods, excess printed media and artificial materials to contextualize their changing society.
The exhibition currently on view at Luxembourg & Dayan embarks on an ambitious project and puts César’s particularly broad yet consistent oeuvre in conversation with his American and European peers—those he may or may not have come across paths in his lifetime. Typical experimentalist soul in early post-war era art, both in Europe and in the U.S., claims the gallery’s three floors and builds a bridge over the Atlantic to demonstrate how artistic minds collectively responded to similar issues regardless of their affiliation with each others’ works. Greeting the visitors at the entrance to the gallery is Expansion, César’s polyurethane based oozing semi-abstract sculpture beaming in its shiny yellow hue. The work’s aesthetic alliance to Pop Art compliments Claes Oldenburg’s Soft Light Switches sculpture, which is a blown up vinyl version of everyday light switches. César’s inclination towards abstraction here is juxtaposed with Robert Morris’ equally eruptive felt sculpture from 1968, two years earlier to César’s work. This communicative display of works showcasing the French artist’s parallelism with his American colleagues in terms of genre, medium and subject matter on the first floor thus determines the rest of the exhibition.
Throughout the tightly curated selection, visitors encounter Buffet’s Le Coq Rouge, one of the painter’s rarely seen paintings portraying a rooster in the artist’s signature fashion, alongside César’s Scorpion, a welded bronze sculpture he formed to depict the eight-legged crawler in a distinctly industrial manner, adding robotic features to the figure’s otherwise anatomical posture. Alberto Giacometti’s lithography piece, Standing Nude and César’s other bronze sculpture, this time of a human figure sporting extra stretched torso and corrugated limbs, fall into a glaring conversation. The exhibition unfolds through various periods from César’s biography in which he experimented with materials as variant as cars, industrial waste and even cardboards—mediums that were generally excluded from artist studios at the time.
Enveloppage pieces for which he enclosed mundane objects with plexiglass sheets stand out for being some of the most intriguing pieces in the exhibition. Their vigorously executed aesthetic and anti-utilitarian concepts convey both artistic and ideological cues. César’s interest in bodily parts, on the other hand, connects him with Tom Wesselmann, whose Great American Nude #74, a molded plastic wall piece in the form of a female nude, merrily awaits on the top floor paired with the French artist’s polyester resin casts of human hands.
César in Context is open to public Tuesday through Saturday between 10am and 5pm at Luxembourg & Dayan until July 2, 2016.
— Osman Can Yerebakan