Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

The City of the Circle and the Square

1963 and 1966

In Tate Modern

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924–2005
Painted aluminium
Object: 2108 × 1022 × 667 mm
Purchased 1964


The City of the Circle and the Square is a painted aluminium sculpture by the Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi. It rises to a height of more than two metres and extends to over a metre wide. This imposing sculpture is coloured in high gloss red, blue, green and grey paint. A series of repeated box-like units incorporating circular and rectilinear shapes are combined to create a structure that is both mechanical and anthropomorphic in nature. Two irregular, collaged columnar structures on one side and a red wheel on the other support the three main central sections, which are stacked on top of one another and topped with three cotton-reel-type objects.

This work was made by Paolozzi in 1963 at C.W. Juby’s welding workshop in Ipswich and is cast from specialist aluminium. The materials were processed and assembled in the workshop under Paolozzi’s supervision. Each individual section was cast from plywood and wax prototypes designed by the artist. As historian Judith Collins notes, ‘all Paolozzi’s aluminium sculptures of 1962 to 1976 were made in this way at Juby’s’ (Collins 2014, p.140). The wheel is modelled on a pre-existing pattern supplied by a firm of pattern-makers and was specially cast, while the three cotton-reel shapes that surmount the sculpture were initially turned in wood. This approach represented a change in technique for Paolozzi, who had earlier worked with found objects collaged together and cast in bronze to make new sculptural forms such as Cyclops 1957 (Tate T00225).

Paolozzi was a Visiting Professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künst in Hamburg from 1960 to 1962, and during this time he and his students scavenged ship-breakers’ yards for objects which became elements in his sculptural forms (Spencer 2000, p.95). Moving away from the collaging of found objects towards industrial design and the fabrication of sculptural units, Paolozzi established new working relationships with foundries and precision engineering works in England. Made soon after Paolozzi’s return to England from Germany, The City of the Circle and the Square and other tower works articulate his enduring interest in German culture. As Paolozzi reflected in 1983: ‘These works are a kind of a commentary on Germany – for example, they remind me of German town halls’ (quoted in Spencer 2000, p.97). It is not known why the sculpture bears two dates – 1963 and 1966 – but it is possible that it was reworked at the later date.

In The City of the Circle and the Square the architectonic nature of the core structure stretches skyward like the towering buildings of modernity, while the wheel represents one of the earliest of humankind’s inventions. As critic Frank Whitford noted, ‘Germany for Paolozzi meant the superb engineering, the functional architecture and the world described by Fritz Lang in the 1929 film Metropolis, one of the sculptor’s favourite films’ (Whitford 1971, p.19). Also reminiscent of jukeboxes, computers and the rows of dials in power stations, the sculpture might be seen as a parody of an automated age, presenting as it does an inert and functionless machine.

The City of the Circle and the Square is one of around eight tower sculptures that Paolozzi made in the period 1962–4 (see, for instance, Imperial War Museum 1962, Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich) and Wittgenstein at Cassino I 1963 (Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds). These towers give greater emphasis to a faceless machine aesthetic than earlier robot-like assemblages such as Konsul 1962 (Tate T12487) or His Majesty at the Wheel 1958 (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh). The City of the Circle and the Square also relates to the screen-printed book Metafisikal Translations 1962 (Tate P09056P09098; P09215P09216) and the film The History of Nothing 1960–2, both of which Paolozzi was working on in 1962.

The City of the Circle and the Square was first exhibited in September 1963 at Waddington Galleries in London.

Further reading
Frank Whitford, Eduardo Paolozzi, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1971, p.71.
Eduardo Paolozzi, Writings and Interviews, ed. by Robin Spencer, Oxford 2000.
Judith Collins, Eduardo Paolozzi, Farnham 2014, pp.142, 148, 150.

Beth Williamson
April 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Paolozzi’s sculpture is part cityscape, part elaborate machine. He describes it as an ‘urban image’. The wheel, a recurring motif in his work, symbolises technology. Instead of using existing pieces of scrap metal, as he had in earlier sculptures, he started from scratch with this work. He designed a series of geometric units made from wax. Then, a team of assistants cast them in aluminium, before welding and painting them according to his instructions. This process, in which the artist is removed from the actual manufacturing, has been called ‘industrial collage’.

Gallery label, June 2021

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