London

Paul Neagu

I.C.A.

Paul Neagu’s recent exhibition at the I.C.A. marked ten years of living in Britain in self-imposed exile from his native Rumania. In a decade he has developed into a didactic sculptor employing geometric signs as devices in an emerging philosophic system. Here problems bristle. How visual can such “philosophy” be? How personal can it become? Most of the pieces on show were “hyphens,” large wooden cradles with pointed legs, roughly made with old wood and metal tips, and “fusions,” edgy semicircles like curved thunderbolts. In his personal vocabulary the hyphens act as bridges between stages of spiritual development, their legs representing the relationship nature-culture-art or father-mother-child. Their rectangular tops signify reason or intellect; and from the points indicated by the spiked feet, figures can be traced which form part of Neagu’s “hierarchy of becoming.” He repeats his ciphers obsessively; presumably each has a ritual or talismanic quality since it is designed to incorporate as many key emblems of the “generative code” as possible. How they are to be used is unclear to me. That they are part of a means of transcendence is evident from his writing. “Certainly man’s existence on earth has a definite purpose, namely the obligation of evolving towards a higher consciousness. He is continuously reshaping a more suitable vehicle/body and a better understanding of the complex characterization of the transformation of energy.”

Neagu can be associated with a plucky band of British sculptors intent on imbuing their objects with meanings beyond the purely formal. However, in the case of Carl Plackman, for example, or Martin Naylor, the extra strain the object has to bear is twofold; it recalls personal feelings as well as taking its place in a recognizable stylistic repertoire. Neagu is free of all this. He has worked in other media, performing, making structures out of ceramics or waffles, working with other people. Either this show was too stiffly conceived to demonstrate this or Neagu’s sculpture has diminished in definition and in potential interest, since little else matters beyond the determination to fit the object into as many preordained patterns as possible. Paradoxically, it seems that the more complex he can make his pieces, the more clearly his private meanings will emerge. Perhaps I’m missing something.

Stuart Morgan