Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

Mechaniks Bench


In Tate Modern

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924–2005
Object: 1765 × 1838 × 483 mm
Purchased 1971

Display caption

Paolozzi began making machine-like structures in the early 1960s. He said he wanted to eliminate ‘arty’ qualities from his work. Instead he aimed for an impersonal, engineered feel. The elements in this work are a mixture of castings from ordinary machine parts with castings from forms designed by the artist. He described his raw materials as ‘things that nobody would give a second glance... Part of the battle is to try, and resolve these anonymous materials into ... a poetic idea’.

Gallery label, August 2018

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Catalogue entry

Eduardo Paolozzi 1924-2005

T01469 Mechaniks Bench 1963

Not inscribed.
Aluminium, 69½ x 72¿ x 19 (176.5 x 184 x 48). Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Exh : Nieuwe Realisten, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, June–August 1964 (47, repr.), as ‘The Mechanics Bench'; Pace Gallery, New York, January 1966; Tate Gallery, September–October 1971 (46, repr.).
Lit: Diane Kirkpatrick, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1970, p.62 (repr. p.64); Frank Whitford, catalogue of Paolozzi exhibition, Tate Gallery, 1971, pp. 19–20.
Repr: Eduardo Paolozzi: A selection of works from 1963–66, 1966 (1, repr. as ‘Mekanik’s Bench’); Uwe.M.Schneede, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1971, p.50.

In the text of a monograph on Paolozzi to be published in 1973, Frank Whitford describes how in Hamburg in 1960–2, ‘Paolozzi became… interested in the wide variety of engineering forms littering the docks and began to think of ways in which they might be transformed into sculpture. The result was the series of Towers constructed from a variety of found material, mostly the sort of engineering scrap lying around the floor of any factory or foundry.

‘A statement [quoted by Whitford, which] Paolozzi wrote in 1961… announced that Paolozzi had become an artist-engineer concerned with fabrication rather than traditional creation and that he was now after, as he added in the statement, “the suppression of talent”. He now wanted to eliminate from his work not only all those self-consciously “arty” qualities but also all the marks of his own personality and all the elements of an immediately recognisable style. His pieces were now to become anonymous, like machines’.

‘The Towers gradually come to be composed entirely of regular, engineered elements taken from machines. At first the individual elements or component parts were pressed in wax and the sculptures then cast according to the earlier method. Gradually however Paolozzi came to prefer a more direct approach and welded the parts together. The method was still basically collage, of course, but it was more like that of the real machine-builder than the complicated wax-sheet process. At the end of 1963, after his return from Hamburg, Paolozzi realised that he could not only order standard engineering parts in a variety of sizes from a variety of trade catalogues, but also that he could have casts made to his own design.’

‘With these works Paolozzi moved his sculpture away from the studio floor to the factory… Paolozzi had ceased to be an artist in the traditional mould. Instead he had become a member of a team, a visualiser and overseer, exploiting the talents of a group of others to realise his conception. He now had little to do with the actual making of his sculpture. An assistant executed the drawings for the casts which were then made and welded together by a series of professionals.’

‘Mechaniks Bench of 1963 is perhaps the most revealing of all the works of this, the engineering period; for it sets out, literally on a bench, a group of basic elements, some of which were repeatedly used in other sculptures. Although all these basic elements are fragments of machines, a study for the sculpture made in 1962 (and since destroyed) included a variety of found objects, a telephone, cog wheels and a toy gun, which, cast in bronze, could be placed on the bench in a variety of ways. Although the figures and towers stand directly on the floor and therefore departed from tradition in doing away with bases and plinths, they do rely for their effect on their presence as humans or other beings. Mechaniks Bench is the first major work to have none of these associations and must even be seen from below eye-level where it looks like a table on which parts of some Froebel-like teaching method stand, waiting to be arranged. This work is therefore a reminder that all the works of this period were made like collages. As Paolozzi said: “I am using anonymity in the same sense that the actual raw materials, when they arrive and lie around on the floor of the workshop arc things that nobody would give a second glance… Part of the battle now is to try and resolve these anonymous materials into... a poetic idea... such as the mechanic’s bench... or the aeroplane.”

Diane Kirkpatrick (op. cit.) wrote that’ Paolozzi found part of his idea for Mekanik’s Bench [sic] in a series of old-fashioned drawings of mechanical still lifes (several are reproduced in Metafisikal Translations) [Book published by Paolozzi in 1962]’.

The artist told the compiler (conversation, 7 June 1972) that T01469 was a mixture of castings from original standard parts with castings from forms fashioned by him or to his instructions. The sculpture was ‘a dialogue between what you can fabricate and what you can't, which you must therefore cast’. The topmost form in the sculpture is cast from a German saw-guard; the same form appeared in ‘Towards a New Laocoon’ 1963 and in ‘Rio’ 1965. The small box-like structures at one end of the ‘bench’ are three-dimensional realisations of parts of a model building kit acquired by Paolozzi during the Second World War. The destroyed study for another table sculpture, referred to by Whitford in the quotation above, is recorded in photographs in the artist’s possession. T01469 is described by him as his only successful table sculpture.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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