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On display on Level 2


France 1921 – 1998

Compression 1960 Materials & Technique: sculptures, steel

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 151.0 h x 61.0 w x 43.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1978
Accession No: NGA 78.1231
Image rights: © César/ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy
  • the artist;
  • from whom bought through Marcel Lefranc, Paris, by the Australian National Gallery, October 1977

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.

  1. Pierre Restany, 'Un nouveau réalism en sculpture: César', Cimaise, no. 55, October 1961, pp.44-51, p.46: 'J'ai vu César à l'affût, surveillant le travail des grues, dosant les charges, guettant le résultat de chaque operation. J'ai admiré avec lui ces balles calibrées d'un poids avoisinant la tonne et qui sont le produit de la compression d'une camionnette, d'un lot de cycles ou d'une gigantesque batterie de cuisinières à charbon … Certaines de ces balles etaient encore plus belles que les autres: Il les a choisies parce qu'il les sentait comme telles, et elles sont devenues siennes'.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra