Lot 132
  • 132

CÉSAR | Compression d'Automobile

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • César
  • Compression d'Automobile
  • signed and dated 1978
  • automobile compression
  • 160 by 65 by 65 cm. 62 7/8 by 25 1/2 by 25 1/2 in.


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


Liège, Musée d'Art Moderne, Parc de la Boverie, César, February - March 1982, p. 47, no. 38, illustrated
Tokyo, Seibu Museum, 12 Artistes Français dans l'Espace, May - June 1985, p. 11, no. 20, illustrated


Pierre Restany, César, Paris 1988, p. 279, no. 283, and p. 283, incorrectly illustrated upside down


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, Condition: This work is in very good and original condition. All the rub marks, scratches and media accretions are likely to be original. There are some dust fibres that have accumulated in the recesses and spots of oxidation in places throughout.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A pioneering member of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, French sculptor César Baldaccini stunned his contemporaries with his avant-garde works through their impressive scale and seemingly inflexible artistic materials. His critically-acclaimed and world-renowned Compressions pushed the boundaries of art history and questioned traditional definitions of sculpture. By selecting materials that originate from industrial contexts, the artist destabilised social expectations concerning the types and use of materials found in ‘high-art’ spheres. Executed in 1978, the present work is constituted of variously hued and mechanically compressed automobiles that form an imposing totemic sculpture – a prodigious example of César’s blocks of warped and contorted metallic compositions and a celebration of his lifelong investigation in the artistic potential of everyday objects. Mining cities such as Paris and London for urban debris, César wanted to recuperate and recycle unwanted materials which had served non-artistic purposes in their former life. During an excursion to a scrap yard in 1960, the artist witnessed for the first time in his life a hydraulic compressor majestically flattening and crushing monumentally proportioned objects. As explained by one of the co-founders of the Nouveau Réalisme movement Pierre Restany: “In a factory for the salvaging of metals in the suburbs of Paris, I saw César in front of one of the latest American compressors, supervising the movements of the cranes, proportioning the heterogeneous loads eagerly awaiting the result of each operation. Together we admired these calibrated bales weighing nearly a ton which are the product of the compression of a small lorry, a pile of bicycles or of a gigantic set of kitchen scales” (Pierre Restany cited in: Denyse Durand-Ruel, César: Catalogue Raisonné. Vol I: 1947-1964, Paris 1994, p. 266). Later that year, at the Salon de Mai, the sculptor unveiled to the world the result of his interminable investigations in scrap-merchant warehouses: three works created with his newly discovered compression technique, instantaneously receiving nation-wide attention for his unprecedented creativity and audacity.

Distorted, twisted and deformed, Compression d'Automobile offers viewers a psychedelic landscape of colours, an organic melange of chipped paint and rusted metal which unite and harmonise to form patterned creases over a richly textured surface. Imposing due to its substantial mass, the sculpture obliges audiences to engage in an instinctive phenomenological dialogue with its unbudging physical presence. After all, it is not the carcass of one car yet of numerous dismembered cars that amalgamate into one seemingly immovable and unbreakable object. While French Nouveau Realists such as Arman as well as American sculptor John Chamberlain attempted to further artistic investigations concerning ready-mades, César effectively elaborated an unequivocally novel sculptural syntax by giving a second life to forlorn objects from every-day life.

César’s vibrantly coloured metallic panels often remind viewers of smooth and glossy advertising boards, coated in spray-paint and tailored to perfection, yet indisputably defy mass-production and the seldom-questioned concept of throw-away culture. According to art historian Sam Hunter, “these strangely expressive totems do something to lift the sense of oppression which our efficient, functional environment breeds in our hearts” (Sam Hunter cited in: Ibid., p. 288). In other words, it is not only the visually intricate patterns of sinewy contortions that decorate its surface, the eternal mystery of the exact elements that constitute its composition, or the physically impressive character of its metallic build that render Compression d'Automobile one of César’s most fascinating creations – it is also its powerful social and political significance that imbue it with the quality and the excellence of a chef-d’oeuvre.

This work is recorded in the Denyse Durand-Ruel Archives under No.2297.