Neagu's Boxes is a video transferred from a black and white 16mm film made in Bucharest, Romania in 1968. The footage, just under ten minutes long, was shot by the artist’s friend Comis Laurian and documents an exhibition of Neagu’s work at the Amphora Gallery. The soundtrack features the compositions Intégrales, 1925 and Density 21.5, 1936 by the modernist composer Edgar Varese (1883-1965).
The film begins with establishing shots of the snowy Bucharest streets outside the gallery. A passing man pauses at the window. Inside, the young artist and his friends display Neagu’s contributions to the exhibition, a series of box-like constructions which are opened to reveal intricate compartmentalised inner structures. Many of the boxes are mounted on the walls while others are free-standing. Some of the boxes contain moveable parts; as one of them is opened coins spill out of small interior compartments. Some of the sculptures are designed to be touched; these are early examples of the Tactile Objects and Palpable Objects Neagu continued to make after his move to London in 1970 (see Tactile Object (Hand),1970, Tate T07756).
As the film progresses, the artist moves his objects out of the gallery into the street. A large square box topped with a triangular section is placed in the middle of a cobbled street. A smaller box is sited in a park. A box containing staircase-like forms is positioned at the bottom of a public stairway. The final box displayed is a large elaborate piece made up of nine smaller boxes arranged in a grid. Each smaller box opens independently to reveal geometric forms within. At the end of the film the artist is seen walking alone in the street, carrying one of his constructions under his arm.
The film makes evident the way in which the boxes’ hinged forms offer the tantalising prospect of revealing what is inside, inviting the viewer to interact directly with the objects. Neagu also described the interior of the boxes as the ‘model of the artist’s inner thoughts, being distinct from his outer “façade”’ (unpublished artist’s statement, 2002). The construction of some of the sculptures in the film anticipates the honeycomb structure of Neagu’s anthropocosmic works which divide the human form into individual cells (see Anthropocosmic Mould, 1971, Tate T07754). Just as the sculptures emphasise the distinction between inside and outside the film’s locations contrast the gallery space with the more public arena of the street.
The grainy black and white film with its fast cuts and jaunty modernist soundtrack evokes the cinema of the French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realist movements. Neagu was introduced to the history of cinema as a student at the Beaux Arts Academy in Bucharest in the early 1960s and cited the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma as an early influence.
Matei Stircea-Craciun, Paul Neagu: Nine Catalytic Stations, Bucharest, 2003.
Christian Simionescu, A Derridean Tornado: Paul Neagu 1965-2000, London, 2000.
Sarah Kent, Paul Neagu: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1979.