Collection Spotlight: Constructed Cylinder, Arnaldo Pomodoro

Title: Constructed Cylinder (Cilindro Costruito)

Artist: Arnaldo Pomodoro (born 1926)

Nationality: Italian

Date: 1969

Medium: cast bronze with copper surface

Credit: Gift of Leigh B. Block in memory of his mother, Cora B. Block (1880-1973), also a benefactor of Northwestern University, 1985.159

A golden tower stands tall, glinting majestically in the morning sun. That is how I first met Arnaldo Pomodoro’s 16-foot-tall sculpture. Its smooth copper surface is so polished that I could see my awed expression staring back at me. At first glance, Constructed Cylinder (1969) appears solid but, in fact, the gleaming outer surface gives way on several sides of the cylinder, as if it has melted away or been peeled back, revealing an unpolished, yet intricate interior. Stacks of rough rectangular planes line the exposed vertical trenches. The title of the sculpture, Constructed Cylinder, suggests something fabricated or produced. To me, the repeated rectangular forms are suggestive of technology: perhaps piles of hard drives or the shelves of a server room.

Indeed, throughout his artistic career, Pomodoro drew inspiration from the emergence of high-tech and computers. In 1959, he created his first bronze column called Voyager Column, a response to the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. Its flattened surface is covered with intricate rectangular shapes, looking remarkably like a circuit board. The shapes of the sculptures themselves further reference technology, from columns and cubes to disc-rotors and spheres. While Pomodoro believed technology had great societal benefits, he remained wary of its potential dangers. He sought to express these dual beliefs by juxtaposing elements in his sculpture, noting, “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” (Masoero 2016, 187).

In Constructed Cylinder, we are presented with a gleaming surface, the promise of technology. But Pomodoro is also sure to show us the inner workings, giving us both a glimpse of the supporting framework beneath the polished covering and a feeling of Pomodoro’s “aggravated discomfort.” Maybe this framework seeks to break free from or destroy its shell; it is the dark, destructive side of technology Pomodoro has warned against. Or perhaps what we are witnessing is not something in the process of being exposed or deconstructed but in the act of being constructed, as the name of the sculpture suggests. The gold exterior is the active agent in this malicious ploy, attempting to conceal from the rest of the world what lies below.

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Born and raised in a small village in the Montefeltro region of Italy, Pomodoro was first exposed to the art world when he worked at the Pesaro Public Works Office reconstructing buildings that had been damaged or destroyed during the Second World War. However, his first transformative experience with art occurred when he visited a Picasso exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. He was inspired by how Picasso “highlighted how art was able to express and synthesize the sense and dynamics of the historical moment we were living in,” a theme he remains cognizant of in his own work through references to technological forms (Hunter 2007, 58). Pomodoro has also taught and exhibited work in the United States, teaching at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s. In 2016 the city of Milan celebrated Pomodoro’s 90th birthday, displaying his art at the Palazzo Reale and placing his public sculpture around the city. Today, Pomodoro works and lives in Milan.

Even though Constructed Cylinder references technology, it is not mass-produced by a machine. The interior is painstakingly handcrafted, a skill Pomodoro learned as a jeweler and goldsmith. He produces representations of technology through craftsmanship and human intervention. By doing so, he is able to create intimacy within a large monument, inviting us to get up close and view his handiwork.

You can find Constructed Cylinder at the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, immediately on your left as you enter on the first floor.

— Contributed by Curatorial Intern, Nicholas Liou (BA, Art History 2020)

Bibliography

  • Masoero, Ada, organizer. Arnaldo Pomodoro. Milan: Skira, 2016.
  • Hunter, S. “Monuments and Anti-monuments.” In Arnaldo Pomodoro: Catalogo ragionato della scultura, edited by Flaminio Gualdoni. Milan: Skira, 2007.
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Nicholas Liou with colleague Isabella Ko beginning a sculpture garden tour at “Constructed Cylinder”

Block Collection Spotlight invites a closer look at objects in the Block Museum permanent collection from students, staff, faculty, and museum audiences.

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