France 1921 – 1998
Compression 1960 Materials & Technique: sculptures, steel
Through is search for materials to use in his welded sculptures, César was already familiar with scrap-metal yards when, in April 1960, he saw a large new American hydraulic press used for crushing scrap metal (especially car bodies) at work I a yard at Gennevilliers on the outskirts of Paris. Pierre Restany, critic and good friend of the artist, was dragged along to watch the press in action and wrote soon afterwards:
I saw César on the look-out, watching the cranes working, measuring the loads, waiting for the result of each operation. We admired the graded bales, weighing about a ton, produced by compressing a van, a batch of bicycles or a huge battery of coal ovens … Some of these bales were more beautiful than others; he chose them because he felt they were so and these became his own.'1
César selected three bales of crushed cars, including the work now in the Australian National Gallery, and exhibited them a few weeks later at the Salon de Mai, where they were perceived as an anti-art gesture and caused quite a scandal.
In later compressions César exercised greater control over the works, specifying the colour and type of components to be loaded into the press. As well as car bodies, he has also used motor-bikes, cutlery, plexiglass, jewellery and cardboard in these compressions.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.264.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra