César (César Baldaccini)
Year, Birthplace 1921, France
Year, Place of death 1998, France
Nationality France
The son of a cafe owner from Tuscany [Italy], César Baldaccini spent his childhood in Marseille’s Belle-de-Mai neighbourhood. At the age of 14 he began to attend evening classes at the local school of fine arts. In 1943, he enrolled at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. He studied the great masters extensively, from Michelangelo to Rodin. He was influenced by Germaine Richier, whose studio he visited for a period. At first, his works were executed in classical materials such as stone, clay and plaster. From 1947 onwards, he began to work in iron. In 1949, after being awarded a scholarship, he travelled to Italy and visited Pompeii. Seeing the casts made from the burnt bodies of the eruption’s victims had a decisive impact on his future direction, as had happened with Germaine Richier some years before. In 1952, in Trans-en-Provence, he took up welding and produced his first scrap metal sculptures, using humble materials, since his extremely limited means meant he was unable to purchase blocks of marble or cast in bronze. He salvaged the materials for his sculptures – pipes, bolts, screws, etc – from scrap yards and rubbish dumps From 1952, he spent 12 years working at Léon Jacques’ factory in Villetaneuse, to the north of Paris. There he created his welded iron pieces Armandine, La Victoire de Villetaneuse, Ginette and Hommage a Léon. From 1954 on, César exhibited at the Galerie Lucien Durand (animals in scrap metal). In 1956 he participated in the Venice Biennale, followed by the Carrara Biennale in 1957, and the São Paulo Biennale and Documenta II, in Kassel, in 1959. In 1958, he was awarded prizes by the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and at the International Sculpture Exhibition in Brussels. Yet it was the three compressions that he showed at the Salon de Mai in 1960 – and the outrage they provoked – that led to his renown. In 1958, in a scrap yard in Gennevilliers, the artist came across metal that had been crushed in a press. At first, he simply collected it, then he began to select what he wanted to crush in the hydraulic press. He generally chose cars but also, as his method developed, various collections of objects such as fabric, paper and jewellery etc. During the same year, he was one of the founders of the Nouveaux Réalistes, following the initiative of the critic Pierre Restany, together with Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein and Jacques Villeglé, who were united by their fresh and original perspective on the consumer society in which they lived. César also experimented with other techniques, such as expansions in liquid polyurethane resin (1967, Salon de Mai) and casts, such as Le Pouce [Thumb, 1965] and Le Sein [Breast, 1966] which were monumentally enlarged (measuring, respectively, 12 and 15 metres high). He constantly reinvented himself, always intrigued by the properties and possibilities of materials. Controversy frequently accompanied his career, yet in his final years he received numerous accolades: he was made professor at the École nationale superieure des beaux-arts in Paris in 1970, commissioned to design cinema trophies in 1975, awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts in 1980, represented France in the Venice Biennale of 1995 (where he exhibited a 520 ton compression) and, in 1996, was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale in Japan. Despite the retrospectives held of his work around the world and the social events, he cultivated the image of the eternal gruff craftsman. In the art world, the ‘Benvenuto Cellini of scrap metal’ was rejected by both the guardians of tradition – the Académie des beaux-arts turned down his candidature in 1981 – and by the avant-garde. A retrospective of his work in Paris, at the Galerie national du Jeu de Paume, was not held until 1977, when he was 76 years old, one year before his death. AC
1958 - 1964
1965 - 1981