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Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005)


History of Nothing (1962)
Kakafon Kakkoon (1965)

Eduardo Paolozzi was born on March 7, 1924, in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. From childhood he collected ephemera—science-fiction magazines, discarded toys, and other objets trouvés—which became the basis for a lifelong fascination with repurposing found objects and images in his art. As the son of Italian immigrants, he was briefly interned under the Emergency Powers Act soon after Italy declared war on Britain in June 1940. Paolozzi subsequently studied at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1943 and the Central Saint Martins School of Art, London, in 1944. While suspending his formal studies for a year of military service in the Royal Pioneer Corps, he discovered The Foundations of Modern Art (1931), the English translation of the collected works La peinture moderne (1925) by the French Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant and architect Le Corbusier and Art (1928) by Ozenfant. This text introduced him to formative images of Parisian avant-garde art, so-called primitive sculpture, and reproductions of machinery—all prominent subjects in his art for the rest of his career.

He completed his formal education at the end of the war, attending the Slade School of Fine Art (then based in Oxford) from 1945 to 1947, and in 1947 he had his first solo show at the Mayor Gallery, London. He departed for Paris, living there until 1949, where he became acquainted with Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger, and Tristan Tzara. His early lost-wax bronze sculptures and collages of the 1950s demonstrate a debt to the disjunctive Surrealist practices of chance, metaphor, disparate elements, and allusion, and also reveal concurrent Art Brut tendencies embodied in the work of Jean Dubuffet. During his time at the Slade, Paolozzi also found inspiration in the collection of ethnographic sculpture at the Pitt River Museum, Oxford. He returned to London and was a major contributor to the Independent Group (1952–55) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, presenting for instance his lecture "Bunk" in 1952, a series of slides depicting images from contemporary culture and science-fiction literature. In 1953 he co-organized the exhibition Parallel of Life and Art, explicitly juxtaposing work by modern masters such as Dubuffet and Paul Klee with the pop-cultural images of his lecture a year earlier and signaling the emergence of Pop art as well as his role as a pioneer of that movement.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he created screenprints containing references from contemporary culture and machine imagery, and he began experimenting with industrial processes in large-scale sculpture, using aluminum, chrome-plated steel, and bronze to create anthropomorphic shapes. He produced public works from early in his career, including mosaic decorations for the underground station at Tottenham Court Road (1980–83) and the Piscator sculpture outside Euston Road Station (1980), both in London. Although Paolozzi worked in many different mediums, he regarded himself as primarily a sculptor. He taught throughout his adult life, for an extended period in ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London, in the 1970s and 1980s, and at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München, Munich, from 1981 to 1991.

Paolozzi showed work in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (1960) and had major solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1964), and Tate Gallery, London (1971), as well as a retrospective at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (1984). In 1999, precipitated by Paolozzi's promised gift of more than five thousand works and ephemera, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (known as the Dean Gallery), opened a permanent installation re-creating Paolozzi's London studio. Paolozzi died on April 22, 2005, in London.