Standing opposite some Eduardo Paolozzi collages, I wanted to do turn to the woman three frames width from me and beam, “isn’t this fun!”
The first room in The Whitechapel Gallery’s Paolozzi exhibition is rammed with an excess of creativity, post war explosion of sculptures, collages and dress patterns that defies an age were ration books were still in hand and eggs were still powdered.
I have a habit of forgetting the closing date of exhibitions at The Whitechapel, not this time.
With a slither of time between leaving home and going to Derby for the next dates of the Brian Cox tour, I decided the limited time and weight of rucksack and suitcase was no alibi for missing art
Hoiking my luggage around a gallery would count as the day’s exercise session as we were not being stretched and reshaped on a hillside or lakeside by Brian’s trainer today.
Like the Rauschenberg exhibition, I grinned from one magnificent creation to the next. Sadly, I was unaccompanied, so I had to keep it all in. Not everyone was as grinnish as me, plus an old man burdened with luggage and expressing delight to strangers can be seen as a peculiar thing that strangers feel the need to ward off.
The first image was a 1950s magazine cutting about the future of electronic hand and arm replacements, I could instantaneously understand why JG Ballard admired him so much. Images of Lucille Ball and the latest tinned tuna technology soon followed.
Like so many exhibitions I visit, I went in predominantly ignorant of much of the work. I had seen some of it along a balcony at the Yorkshire Sculpture park last Summer, and a few illustrations accompanying articles by and about Ballard.
Though I knew the Bunk! image, I knew nothing of his silent Bunk presentation at the ICA in 1952, described as “the opening salvo of pop art.”
He projected a series of adverts and cuttings, baffling many observers at the time, but also leaving quite a few intrigued. It must have been an enigmatic event. The carousel of slides clicks and whirrs in the Whitechapel. It generates a nostalgia for the future that never quite arrived.
The images look so hopeful, but also arcane, a time where magazines and politics was suggesting the life after wartime would be a time of ambition, new comforts and domestic joys, before the potency of perpetual fear began to dominate.
Do I admire and delight in Paulozzi’s collages as they encourage narcissistic me to see them as similar to my mind, frenetic with cogs and heads, teapots and octopi, before self-knowledge me reminds me that his framing of a multitude of shapes and images has some control, unlike my spewing brain.
Listening to philosopher Rick Roderick’s Self Under Siege lecture a day later, he discusses the confusion we face from the cultural bombardment of the twentieth century, something that seems even truer in the twenty-first.
‘The marriage of reason and fantasy which has dominated the twentieth century has given birth to an even more ambiguous world”, wrote JG Ballard in the introduction to Paulozzi’s box of images, General Dynamic of F.U.N.
In room 2, the colours at first take over from the images. The As is When series is alluringly overwhelming.
I couldn’t look at anything just the once. I would leave and return and, had I not needed to arrive at a velodrome in Derby by 4.15pm, I would have stayed for the day. Resting my eyes near cakes and coffee, then going back in. Placed within the prints, there is information about Wittgenstein, his perpetual sense of disappointment after giving lectures, his need to immediately distract his mind by sitting in the front row of the movies. Westerns were his favourites.
“A picture is fact,” he wrote, but can Paulozzi’s be narrowed down to just one fact?
Like Rauschenberg, you walk away in awe of the intense activity of one mind.
There are only a few days left, you should go.
I will be doing a 19 date tour in the Autumn, with more dates added in the Spring.