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César (1921-1998) is a French artist, heir to the tradition of welded sculpture and inventor of new techniques. His work is sometimes summed up as a kind of industrially reproduced paperweight (created in 1976) that every year on the podium brandishes French film personalities.

The spiritual son of Rodin and Giacometti, Caesar met Picasso and Germaine Richier in Paris, and lived in the same house as Alberto Giacometti in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. These encounters have a major influence on the beginnings of his artistic creation. Caesar is also inspired by the work of Brancusi, Pablo Gargallo and Julio Gonzales.


 His assemblies of metal waste have given rise to a disturbing bestiary, bats, shredded chickens, shell turtles and fish eaten to the bone have allowed him to propose his own very expressive versions of the human figure. In 1954, he was awarded the "Prix des Trois Arts" from the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris for a sculpture representing a fish 3.40 metres long. In 1956 he participated in the Venice Biennale.


At the same time, his research led him to invent more daring creative techniques, starting with the "compression" of car bodies. He discovered this technique in 1958, while snooping at a scrap dealer in Gennevilliers. Using a hydraulic press, he compresses cars and exposes them to the public like sculptures. This act of appropriation was launched as a challenge to consumer society, and its "Compressions" caused a scandal at the May exhibition in 1960.


He then created the polyurethane "Expansions" from 1965, in his hands, the liquid resin spreads horizontally, swells, folds, and attacks the vacuum she moulds. The "Expansions" are available in bronze variations. This year is also the year in which the artist creates one of his most famous pieces: his Thumb, 1.85m high, often reproduced since then. The one that was installed in 1994 in the La Défense district is 12 metres high. To create these pieces, he uses an "enlarger" and synthetic resin for molding, starting from the idea of the hand, he arrives at the "Thumb". His Imprints divide criticism and oppose on the one hand the supporters of "classical" vocations and on the other hand the defenders of the sculptor's "avant-garde" creations.


 In 1970, he created Le Poing, a monumental 7-ton sculpture in polished stainless steel cast iron, installed on the Place d'Armes at the Lycée militaire de Saint-Cyr. In 1983, he began to create his Centaur in homage to Picasso, a sculpture 4.70 metres high, completed two years later. The sculpture is installed at the crossroads of the Red Cross in Paris. Also in 1983, César made his Tribute to Eiffel for the Cartier Foundation in Jouy-en-Josas.


 Through Compressions, Human Footprints and Expansions, Caesar challenges the canons of traditional sculpture. The use of the hydraulic press, expanded polyurethane and the footprint allows him to take ownership of reality directly, reducing his manual intervention. Marking Caesar's fascination with the aesthetics of industrial waste, these works have made him one of the major representatives of New Realism in France (Yves Klein, Arman, Jacques Villeglé and Raymond Hains). However, from the 1980s onwards, the artist returned to a more traditional and deliberately aesthetic sculpture. On July 27, 1988, César received the Rodin Prize.


During the major retrospective devoted to him in the summer of 1997 at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu-de-Paume in Paris, César finally exhibited his "Great Blind Self-Portraits", his "Vanities". Their bare faces behind iron gangs proudly stand before death, humbly acknowledging all the bells, faded ribbons and tarnished medals hanging from their skulls. Caesar ended his career with this series of portraits and self-portraits, face-to-face with death.


On December 6, 1998, César died at home, rue de Grenelle in Paris, at the age of 77. Multiple posthumous tributes, including those of President Jacques Chirac, politicians, the arts community, and the general public. The Fondation Cartier presents a major exhibition dedicated to the artist César, ten years after his death (from July 8 to October 26, 2008). A major artist of the twentieth century, he defined himself as an "absolute self-taught artist."