Continuously creating since childhood, when he first cultivated a habit of collaging, British artist Eduardo Paolozzi boasts an oeuvre that is both prodigious and varied. His sculptures, screen prints, brush drawings, and more reside in museums from the Tate to the Museum of Modern Art, and now — a decade after his death — a selection providing a taste of his later style has appeared in Brooklyn. Horizon of Expectation, an exhibition at Clearing, is devoted entirely to Paolozzi, and although the two series of prints and the one sculptural set on view represent just a small sampling of his many works, they capture him at his peak, presenting the rich, innovative, and at times zany imagery that characterizes his practice.
The show splits two of Paolozzi’s screenprint suites — “Calcium Light Night” (1974–76) and “Z.E.E.P. (Zero Energy Experimental Pile)” (1969–70) — between two rooms, weaving them together with installations of three large sculptures. The former calls attention to Paolozzi’s enthusiasm for music, with its nine works inspired by nine songs by Charles Ives. (Aside from playing the piano and the accordion since childhood, Paolozzi also enjoyed listening to jazz and classical arrangements.) Filled with wriggling pipe-like forms, circles that resemble cogs, and other abstract patterns all seamlessly combined, the prints recall the mechanics of a factory, mostly colored with cheerful pastels. The surfaces seem to pulsate from the twisting tubes and wheels of concentric circles, giving physical shape to Ives’s meandering scores. The translation is especially apt, as the composer often patched together an array of instruments and experimented with the layering of sound — essentially creating collages as well. Just as Ives worked with the basic set of 12-tone music, Paolozzi built on his bank of geometric forms, manipulating and rearranging them as he interpreted each of Ives’s songs.
Some of the prints also include annotations by Paolozzi that explain the sounds to which he was specifically responding. At the bottom of “Largo to Presto,” which from afar appears as a peculiar house built of moving gadgetries, he scrawled: “Trumpet, 4 flutes, treble/woodwind & string orchestra.” The parallels between such instrumentation and Paolozzi’s renderings reflect not only their distinct sounds but also the physicality of the objects: rainbow squiggles that represent the trilling tones of wind and string instruments tuck behind circles that open and flare like the bells of trumpets. Even without listening to Ives’s music, one has a sense of its spirit and unique fusion of sound. “Allegro Moderato Firemans’ Parade,” for instance, precariously stacks clunky shapes atop a series of neat, waving lines, suggesting a schizophrenic composition of collapsing and cascading notes.
An earlier series occupies the second room and stands as a stark contrast to the muted tones of “Calcium Light Night,” even though it was created just five years prior. “Z.E.E.P. (Zero Energy Experimental Pile)” follows Paolozzi’s three-month stay in California in 1968, when he was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Named for a nuclear reactor in Ontario — the first operational one outside the US — the series assembles mass media imagery in six bold prints, exemplifying the style that established Paolozzi as a founding figure of Pop art. In California, Paolozzi visited popular entertainment destinations, from Disneyland to wax museums; from Paramount Pictures to lingerie showrooms. His resulting collages are saturated with pictures of skyscrapers, horror flicks, celebrities, robots, military crafts, and visions of outer space, capturing the anxieties and tensions of the Cold War era in visible chaos.
The pieces of 1960s America, however, remain within grid-like configurations, suggesting Paolozzi’s desire to establish some semblance of order around the mass imagery, as collaging allows. “Agile Coin Gross Decision Logic” (1969–70), which covers an olive green background with military vehicles and tools, implies the overwhelming mechanization of society and the violence that stems from war; but the layout of aircrafts, missiles, battleships, and control panels still adhere to a strict taxonomy. In “Human Fate and World Power” (1969–70), cutouts are divided into three rectilinear sections like a Mondrian. They group together objects like an anatomical heart, a rocket, and a tower; a St. Louis Cardinals logo, a Fichet lock, and an anatomical illustration of a human brain. Intentional yet illogical, Paolozzi’s categorization again introduces a sense of schizophrenia, this time in response to urban and pop culture.
Creating rhythm between the two rooms are three aluminum sculptures, part of a set of seven originally designed for a playground in Oxfordshire. Set in the center of each space, the works clearly reflect the visual vocabulary of the screen prints surrounding them, illustrating Paolozzi’s ability to dance gracefully between mediums. Although he had been sculpting since he was quite young, he shifted from materials like bronze and plaster only in the ’60s. “Kalasan,” installed among “Calcium Light Night,” welds dice-like blocks, slender beams, and short ladders, standing as an industrial structure that evokes the lines and configurations within the prints. Simpler and less linear are the sleek “Trishula” and “Suwasa” in the adjoining room, which echo the themes of mechanization present in “Z.E.E.P.” The former demonstrates in three dimensions Paolozzi’s love of collage, composed of haphazardly stacked, same-shaped fragments; the latter slithers across the floor and rises toward the ceiling like a charmed snake, an iteration of the tubular forms found in his screen prints. Futuristic and whimsical (especially in their original state, when they were brightly painted), they emphasize Paolozzi’s skill in invigorating a material known for its rigidity — their spontaneity is especially pertinent when compared to the practical metal air ducts affixed to the ceiling directly above them, which hang cold and severe.
Horizon of Expection is a curious showing for the gallery, which represents names like Harold Ancart, Huma Bhabha, and Korakrit Arunanondchai (and the display marks Clearing’s first to feature the work of a deceased artist), but the reason for this exhibit is largely a practical one: The gallery relocated Bushwick about a year ago, resulting in a nearly three-fold expansion of its space. Here, the large, airy rooms house and present Paolozzi’s works well: with plenty of space to walk between his vast sculptures and suites of screen prints, one can fully appreciate the dialogue created between the fragmented, twisting metal structures and the surreal collages while observing the ties that bind these seemingly disparate series.
Horizon of Expectations continues at C L E A R I N G (396 Johnson Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through November 1.
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