This exhibition of works by Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was titled “Horizon of Expectations,” after a 1967 screenprint by the artist. Paolozzi borrowed titles for his works from figures ranging from Walt Disney to Ludwig Wittgenstein, and likely took this one from the German philosopher Hans Robert Jauss. Holding that literary meaning is not fixed, Jauss developed theories around the “horizon of expectations,” or the set of historically specific assumptions that guide the interpretation of a text. In the case of Paolozzi’s art, which synthesizes references to fleeting pop cultural forms, one might imagine this horizon to have shifted significantly over the past decades. Yet it is striking how well the work fit its surroundings at Clearing, echoing the silver warehouses and Technicolor graffiti of Bushwick’s expanding art district.
Paolozzi is best known as a member of the Independent Group, a band of British artists and critics who treated American advertising, movies and industrial design as serious objects of study in the early 1950s. Previously, Paolozzi had demonstrated his allegiance to mass culture in “Bunk” (1947-52)—a series of 45 dynamic collages of clippings from American glossies that has been mythologized as an origin of Pop art. The Bushwick show focused on his lesser-known sculptures and prints from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
Zero Energy Experimental Pile or Z.E.E.P. (1970) is a portfolio of six screenprints based on collages of magazine cutouts in the vein of “Bunk.” Featuring images of pin-up girls, robots, airplanes, rockets and astronauts, the prints demonstrate Paolozzi’s fascination with the mix of sex and technology in American advertising. The combination of wild, psychedelic colors and sharply delineated layouts recalling board games or pinball machines reflects this fusion of the sensual and the rational. Titled after a nuclear reactor, the portfolio also alludes to the space race, which was at its height when the prints were made.
In the early 1960s—in a departure from his previous sculptures employing the traditional medium of bronze—Paolozzi began experimenting with an aluminum alloy, named LM6, used in cars, ships and airplanes. Resembling the air ducts in Clearing’s industrial gallery space, the three large-scale aluminum sculptures on view (two dated 1966, and one 1973-74) seem to aestheticize technology. Their precise rectilinear and curvilinear forms correspond to the modernist sculptures of David Smith and Anthony Caro.
A 1974 suite of nine abstract screenprints, based on collages, was also on view—their brushed metal frames emphasizing their formal kinship with the aluminum sculptures. The prints’ geometric shapes and sleek, snaking bands in metallic and pastel hues evoke the hard-edge motifs of Robyn Denny and Frank Stella. They are not “pure” abstractions, however, but readymades, culled from a book featuring Hugo Meier-Thur’s visual depictions of organ music. Following Meier-Thur, Paolozzi envisioned the compositions as portrayals of music. He titled the portfolio Calcium Light Night, after a song by composer Charles Ives, whose collage approach to music he admired.
The aluminum sculptures on view were originally installed in a playground in Wallingford, England. And if the Calcium Light Night prints brought out their solemn, modernist side, the Z.E.E.P. works highlighted their playfulness. Paolozzi considered his work an extension of Surrealism, and may have been influenced by the Surrealist notion of the city as playground, an idea that stood in contrast to modernist urban planning that pushed play into designated zones. Perhaps Paolozzi’s minimalist playground equipment was meant to blend seamlessly into the urban fabric, which is why it adapts so readily to present-day Bushwick.