Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture

Institute exhibition
13th August 2015 - 8th November 2015
Galleries 1, 2 and 3 and Upper Sculpture Study Gallery

Paul Neagu
'Tactile Object (Hand)'
Wood, metal, plastic, leather, textile, paper

© Tate, London 2015

The Romanian born artist Paul Neagu (1938-2004) demanded sculpture be appreciated by all five senses. This summer we celebrate multi-sensory encounters with sculpture, presenting over 120 works by Neagu across four of our gallery spaces. The exhibition includes sculptures, drawings, films, texts and archival material, much of which has never previously been exhibited.

Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture shows a selection of work spanning 1968 to 1986, closing when 
he created 'Nine Catalytic Stations', a sculpture summarising his complex philosophical ideas. Our selection encompasses tactile boxes and edible sculptures, performances and fictional collaborators, objects and drawings. In his performances Neagu sought to defy gravity, while his works on paper are simultaneously preparatory works, documentation, assimilation and artworks. In his sculptures Neagu created systems of thought based on his understanding of the human body as a simple container, with his exhibitions conceived as dialogues 
and experiments.

Neagu graduated from Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Fine Arts, Bucharest in 1965, where the syllabus prioritised figurative painting over abstraction and sculpture. Soon after completing his studies he turned his attention to sculpture, making tactile objects - boxes he described as being 'strange mixed media objects'. Portable and scaled to the body, these were designed to be opened, pushed and pulled - each one demanding an active encounter.

In 1969 Neagu travelled to the UK for
 the very first time, under the wing of the Edinburgh gallerist Richard Demarco. This same year he penned his 'Palpable Art Manifesto', announcing that 'The eye is fatigued, perverted, shallow, 
its culture is degenerate, degraded and obsolete, seduced by photography, film, television [...]' and advised that 'Palpable art is a new joy for the "blind", while for the "clear-sighted" it is the most thoroughly three-dimensional study.'

In spring 1970 Neagu left Romania, travelling to Paris and Edinburgh and then London, which he made his home for the next thirty-four years, exhibiting widely and teaching at art schools. In 1979 he exhibited in the very first British Art Show, which opened in Sheffield. Every five years this exhibition takes the temperature of art being made in Britain: in autumn 2015 the eighth edition launches in Leeds Art Gallery, next door to the Henry Moore Institute. In London Neagu's work was first seen at Sigi Krauss Gallery where in 1971 he presented 'Cake-man', an edible sculpture-event.

This was followed by solo exhibitions at 
the Serpentine Gallery (1973), Modern 
Art Oxford (1975) and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1979), with each exhibition carefully constructed by Neagu himself. Neagu created a unique artistic vocabulary. Like our concurrent Gallery 4 exhibition Object Lessons, his was a call to perceive with the hand, nose, mouth and ears as much as the eyes. Paul Neagu: Palpable Sculpture proposes, as the manifesto advises, a phenomenological understanding of both sculpture and the surrounding world.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication featuring texts by Mel Gooding, Lisa Le Feuvre, Ileana Pintilie, Magda Radu and Jon Wood, with a biography compiled by Kirstie Gregory. The publication is supported by Kontakt. Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation, the Mike Holland Trust and Chelsea Arts Club Trust.

We would like to thank the Estate of Paul Neagu for their support of this project. Our Research Library holds comprehensive resources on Paul Neagu.

The exhibition is supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute.

Further information

  • List of Paul Neagu books available in the HMI Research Library:Download (.pdf)
  • Showing alongside:
  • Until 30 August: Eileen Agar: Natural Ready-mades
  • From 30 September: Object Lessons
  • Catalogue:
  • Unfortunately, the catalogue for this exhibition has now sold out. A copy is available to read in the Henry Moore Institute's library.