Radical Enquiries

Radical Enquiries

Eduardo Paolozzi’s General Dynamic F.U.N. (1965-70) is the best thing at the Whitechapel Gallery’s, London, new retrospective, a manifesto of the artist’s anarchy, effrontery and experimentation. It also aptly demonstrates why he is such a difficult artist to exhibit.

Published in a limited edition of 350, General Dynamic comprises of 50 separate screenprints and photolithographs bearing gaudily coloured images from advertising, photojournalism as well as patterns, slogans and other modern ephemera. They carry titles like Smash Hit, Good Loving, Plus Like a Rolling Stone, Slow Down, etc. and Pig or Person, It’s The Same, Fortune Plays a Funny Game. The sheets were designed to be unpacked, rearranged and reconfigured by the owner, making him or her just as empowered in the creative and curating process as the artist. It is Paolozzi’s most striking statement from the Pop Art phase, and a brilliant indictment/celebration of printed, cinematic, and televisual culture in the late 20th century. As JG Ballard wrote an introduction, the portfolio is: “a unique guidebook to the electric garden of our minds.”

How to display such a thing in a public show? Whitechapel have compromised with a video screen showing three people handling and discussing the sheets, with the portfolio itself sitting forlornly below inside a glass case. As a whole, the Scottish sculptor’s work is not easy to contain within physical or conceptual parameters – he moved quickly between styles and happily switched materials and processes from year to year, working in collage, printmaking and textile design as well as sculpture and painting.

The early, post-war series were heavily influenced by Picasso and the Surrealists, but by the 1950s a radically different approach had emerged. In Bunk!, the lecture of 1952, Paolozzi projected images from science fiction, advertising and pornography onto a screen in the Institute of Contemporary Arts, avoiding coherent organisation or explanation, so as to best emulate the image-saturated conditions of his times. Later, pieces such as Avant-Garde!? (1972) became ironic and critical of the pop art scene that he had prefigured, and amongst final works like Newton after Blake (1994-7) in the forecourt of the British Library, the artist returned to figurative sculpture, and with his civic artwork in London and Berlin achieved a public visibility rare amongst the same generation of British artists.

General Dynamic F.U.N. encapsulates all the joys and frustrations of Paolozzi. It is facetious and experimental, it is impossible to exhibit conventionally, it reflects ironically upon image-making, and the artist’s own caring touch is absented.

Matthew Wilson

Eduardo Paolozzi runs at Whitechapel Gallery, London, until 14 May. For more information: www.whitechapelgallery.org

1. A Maximis Ad Minima (1998). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Image Courtesy Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.