Executed in 1966, César’s monumental polyester breast occupies a fascinating position within the artist’s richly varied sculptural output. Departing from the welded iron and compressed junk metal sculptures that had driven his early oeuvre, in 1965 César initiated a series of works based on parts of the human body. Beginning with an enlarged sculptural version of his own thumb, César went on to produce the first of the Sein works, modeled in polyester and reportedly moulded from the breast of a cabaret dancer.
Large in scale and variously coloured, these works experimented with traditional sculptural materials such as bronze, as well as new synthetic materials that paved the way for his polyurethane Expansions. A gleaming white example of the Sein series, the present work sits at a pivotal point in César’s output. On one hand, it speaks to the object-fetishism of his French lineage, stretching from the work of Duchamp and Giacometti to the post-Dada creations of Nouveau Réalisme – the movement through which César achieved international acclaim. Yet at the same time, the work is conceived in the vernacular of Pop Art that was sweeping the UK and the USA, and which provided an important context for César’s practice. Uniting these two aesthetics, Le Sein d’Hélène Rochas combines ironic statement with bold iconicity.
Widely recognised as one of the greatest innovators in French sculpture, and exhibited throughout America from the late 1950s onwards, César was critically aware of the trends espoused by Pop Art. In its subject matter, Le Sein d’Hélène Rochas may be understood within the various strains of eroticism that pervaded much of this scene, particularly in the work of Tom Wesselmann and
César’s contemporary Martial Raysse. Their striking depictions of female nudes, concurrent with the overriding themes of sexual liberation that were gaining extraordinary international momentum at this time, provide a compelling context for Le Sein d’Hélène Rochas. Situated within the era-defining throes of the sexual revolution, and providing a French counterpart to the rapidly developing strands of Pop Art, Le Sein d’Hélène Rochas is a work of intriguing symbolic identity.