New, Newer, Newest: Eduardo Paolozzi’s Laocoön
This paper will examine the sculpture of Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005) from 1958, when he showed his bricolaged bronze figures at London’s Hanover gallery, to 1962, when he began to create more polished architectural-technological forms out of aluminum and steel. I will explore this shift in the artist’s practice through Paolozzi’s ruminations on the Laocoön, which, since Lessing’s treatise (1766), has served as an emblem for sculpture “tout court,” and, beginning in the 1940s, with the publication of Clement Greenberg’s text on a “newer Laocoön” (1940), suggested a new conception of the arts wherein each discipline had to articulate its inherent, fundamental qualities.
Paolozzi, however, had a different idea about what it meant to confront sculpture’s histories: In a series of collages and drawings published in 1963, Paolozzi pictured the Laocoön through a car window. This image is paradigmatic: on the one hand, it is the picture of an accident, with wreckage in the offing, and thus it evokes the ruined bodies of Paolozzi’s bronze figures; on the other hand, it is an image of a “crash,” with all the Ballardian resonance that the word carries, an image of the body and technology interfacing in new, powerful ways. This is precisely the crossroads that sculpture faced at mid-century, what we might call the “newest Laocoön”: sculpture not as a set of abstract qualities, but rather as a violent assemblage of bodies, histories, and materials.
About Alex Kitnick
Alex Kitnick is Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and a frequent contributor to publications including “Artforum” and “October.” He edited “October 136” on “New Brutalism” and a collection of John McHale's writings, “The Expendable Reader: Articles on Art, Architecture, Design, and Media, 1951–1979” (both 2011). His book “Distant Early Warning: Marshall McLuhan and the Transformation of the Avant-Garde” will be published by University of Chicago Press in 2021.