César (César Baldaccini)

Three Compressions


Not on display

César (César Baldaccini) 1921–1998
Painted steel
Object: 622 × 1702 × 622 mm
Presented by the artist 1968

Display caption

The French artist César was a founder member in 1960 of the Nouveaux Réalistes group. Their aim was to engage directly with reality, transforming their material but fully retaining its identity. Before joining the group, César had already begun making sculptures from car bodies compressed into dense packages. In 1968 he visited London to give a sculpture-making demonstration, sponsored by the Friends of the Tate Gallery. While here, he visited a scrap metal merchant and asked that a number of standard compressions of wheel hubs be prepared for his inspection. This work was created by his selecting three from the forty or fifty made, and arranging them into the specific configurations seen here.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

César born 1921

T01052 Three Compressions 1968

Not inscribed
Motor vehicle wheel hubs, 24 1/2 x 67 x 24 1/2 (62 x 170 x 62), in three blocks, 16 3/4 x 23 x 8 (42.5 x 58.5 x 20.5), 24 1/2 x 17 x 10 1/2 (62 x 43 x 26.5) (central block), and 10 1/4 x 16 x 24 1/2 (26 x 40.5 x 62)
Presented by the artist 1968

César's first compressions were made in a factory at Gennevilliers on the outskirts of Paris in April 1960 in a large new American machine for crushing cars, and were first exhibited at the Salon de Mai that year. He continued to make compressions until 1963, then temporarily abandoned the technique for five years, until he took it up again in 1968, the year this work was made.

César visited London in March 1968 to give a demonstration, sponsored by the Friends of the Tate Gallery, of expanding sculpture, in which brightly coloured liquids with special chemical properties were poured onto the floor in large pools, which in a few minutes expanded and then hardened. On 7 March he visited the premises of the George Cohen 600 Group in Wood Lane, London W.12. From a huge range of disused motor vehicles of many dates and types awaiting dismantling and disposal, he selected for compression in one of the company's machines a wide variety of component parts, including doors, bumpers and bonnets. He also asked that a number of standard compressions of wheel hubs (a routine type of compression at the 600 Group works) should be prepared for his inspection. On 8 March César supervised the compression of the assorted vehicle parts, creating in this way a number of multi-coloured compressions now in private collections. T01052 was created, however, by his selecting three from the forty or fifty compressions composed entirely of wheel-hubs which had been made between his two visits.

Although each of the three six-sided blocks composing this work could be placed in twenty-four different positions in rectilinear relation to the spectator (thus offering innumerable permutations in which the three could be arranged together), César emphasises that the sculpture is his work only when they are arranged in the particular relation photographed at the George Cohen 600 Group immediately after he selected and arranged them, and subsequently confirmed by him on the basis of the Gallery's official photograph. In this arrangement, one of the blocks rests on its vertical 'end', one on its 'base' and one on its 'side'. The blocks predominantly show either the plain exposed metal of the hubs or black paint, but there are also passages of cream paint and several shades of green.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.102-3, reproduced p.102

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