‘For me, the sphere is a perfect, almost magical form. Then you try to break the surface, go inside and give life to the form’
(Pomodoro quoted in ‘Sculpture: Dissatisfied Aristotle’, Time magazine. 3rd December, 1965, reproduced online at content.time.com)
Executed in 1975, Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sfera is one of the artist’s most recognisable and signature structures: the sphere. The immaculate, highly polished surface of a perfectly conceived sphere is eroded and rent open to reveal a complex pattern of mechanised forms and empty cavities within. With a complex interplay of light and texture, Sfera is both an organic form and geometric structure, simultaneously natural and mechanised; a work governed by opposing concepts at once compelling and engaging. Like a mysterious relic of a past era eroded by time, or a gleaming beacon of a future, technological age, Sfera has a multitude of visual connotations, making it a highly complex, multifaceted sculpture. Sfera, one of the quintessential motifs of the Italian sculptor’s prolific oeuvre, dates from a period when Pomodoro was widely renowned across the world. Different versions of the eroded form of the sphere are housed in many major museums and collections as well as occupying prime public spaces in a number of cities.
Pomodoro first executed the eroded form of the sphere in 1963. On a trip to New York in 1959, the artist had been struck by an exhibition of Constantin Brancusi’s sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art. On viewing Brancusi’s work, Pomodoro had an artistic epiphany, and was deeply affected by the wholeness and purity of the Romanian sculptor’s work, its absolute perfection of form and luxuriant, immaculate surfaces. Inspired to move away from two-dimensional sculpture to sculpture in the round, Pomodoro increasingly began to experiment with solid geometric forms: cubes, columns, disks and spheres. In contrast to Brancusi’s abstract forms however, Pomodoro wanted to reveal what was inside the solids, exposing their interiors; ‘I imagined them in my mind’s eye full of worm holes and corrosion, and then the idea came to me of setting all of my particular signs in the interior of these geometric solids, turning the abstract...inside out’ (Pomodoro quoted in S. Hunter, ‘Monuments and Anti-monuments’, in F. Gualdoni (ed.), Arnaldo Pomodoro, Catalogo ragionato della scultura, Milan, 2007, p. 59).
For Pomodoro, the complete perfection and impenetrability of Brancusi’s sculpture was problematic: he felt it was no longer viable in the context of the contemporary, technological world. Pomodoro explained, ‘The perfection of form in Brancusi was so beautiful and mysterious; what can one do after Brancusi… Then at a certain moment I said to myself, really this perfection of the form in our time is inappropriate; it has to be destroyed. For me the “destruction” element in form was my most important discovery, and the most authentic both in terms of myself and my times’ (Pomodoro quoted in S. Hunter, Arnaldo Pomodoro, New York, 1982, p. 52). Taking the perfectly curved form of the sphere, Pomodoro eroded and gauged out the surface to reveal an inner structure consisting of geometric, mechanical crenulations, which are completely at odds with the smooth, organic surface of the sphere. The destruction that is inherent in the fissures and corroded surface of Sfera was for Pomodoro, a reflection of the anxiety about the destructive powers that new forms of technology possessed. While technology had allowed astronauts to soar into space in futuristic rockets, it had also unleashed a new form of warfare with the atomic bomb, and the threat of nuclear war loomed in the consciousness of the world. Born from an era of immense innovation yet catastrophic destruction, Pomodoro’s Sfera reveals these tensions of the time. The sculptor described, ‘…in these sculptures I sense the discovery and the drama of technological exploration and its powers. We knew we could put man in a position to destroy himself and the entire world. I interpret my surface erosions and irregularities as symbols of the destructive impulse. I think this drama of erosion captures the sense of foreboding, of a certain anxiety about the course of events at that time in our history. I wanted to suggest that the misuse of our technology could destroy mankind. Man can make ultimate war today just sitting at a table, pushing buttons, as we know so well. The situation creates a sense of aggravated discomfort’ (Pomodoro quoted in ibid., p. 57-58).
While the erosions of Sfera evoke destruction, the inner realm is shrouded in mystery; a labyrinthine realm of interlocking facets. The structures appear like parts of a machine or the characters of an ancient writing or language. These intricately conceived forms seem to be part of a logical pattern, yet one that can never be read or fully comprehended. Pomodoro had used this abstract imagery throughout his career, referring to it as a system or language of signs. Partially visible, the interior of Sfera has a pulsating vitality, as if it is bursting out of its spherical shell to become a sculpture in its own right.