Hail César!

It is hard to miss the César Baldaccini exhibition at Luxembourg & Dayan; his iconic iron thumb, Pouce, sits proudly outside the typically nondescript townhouse. It is as if the late artist, who went ubiquitously as César, is giving the presentation the “A-okay,” and in many ways it is hard to imagine that he wouldn’t. After all, it was arranged with the support of Fondation César, which is helmed by the French sculptor’s last great love, Stéphanie Busuttil-Janssen. Titled simply “César,” the retrospective is the artist’s first U.S. solo show in over 50 years. Fittingly, the last took place just down the street at Saidenberg Gallery in 1961.

“Luxembourg & Dayan is the right place to show this very special and historical exhibition,” Busuttil-Janssen says. “We have the chance to have a lot of pieces from the estate—pieces that César kept all [his] life long. This is a very special show for us.” Petite, blonde, and impeccably dressed, Busuttil-Janssen met the artist when she was 22 and he was 68. By then, César had already made his indelible mark on the art world. A founder of the Nouveaux Réalistes, the sculptor fearlessly experimented with material and form, most notably through his compressions—crushed objects such as cars and engines—one of which hangs in the foyer of the three-floor space. The flattened tangle of metal, Shock Red, is a stark contrast to the abrasive iron bust, a loan from the MoMA, also on view on the ground floor. The bust dates 1954, the compression 1998, the year the artist passed away—bookends of a remarkable career.

“The gallery is not a huge space, so we have decided to show very domestic pieces,” Busuttil-Janssen explains. The exhibition is a breadth of experimental ideas and techniques, thoughtfully contained to a limited space. With Busuttil-Janssen’s touch, it grants the viewer an intimate glance into the work of a contemporary master.