A collage of six black and white photos depicting a group of men installing four bespoke cast aluminium doors at the entrance of the Hunterian Art Gallery.

The Hunterian Art Gallery is home to an eclectic collection of art. We recently redeveloped the entire gallery, asking fundamental questions around what art is, and what ‘counts’ as art.

Did you know the doors to the gallery are artworks in their own right?

Produced over 40 years ago, the entrance to the Hunterian Art Gallery was inspired by these very same questions.

Here, we take a closer look at the incredible ‘Paolozzi Doors’, and how they came to be.

Paolozzi Doors: Pop Art and Problem Solving

The Hunterian collection holds a large number of artworks by Scottish artist, Eduardo Paolozzi. Known as one of the pioneers of pop art, his interest in art ranged greatly over several decades.

From mosaics to murals, and from sculptures to screen prints, Paolozzi’s work evolved through different phases of his artistic career.

So how did his designs for the art gallery doors come about?

The Hunterian Art Gallery’s architects, Whitfield Partners, had met with Paolozzi in 1974, to discuss a tapestry commission for a separate project at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in London.

During these discussions, one of the partners had mentioned an ongoing problem with the gallery’s entrance doors. Originally, there were plans to create the doors using painted steel, but experiments with potential textured surfaces hadn’t worked out well.

This led to a conversation about the role of art in the architecture of modern buildings.

Paolozzi took the idea of the doors further on his own initiative. He started developing designs and a small, one-sixth scale maquette in wood, made by his assistant, Ray Watson.

Paolozzi and Whitfield Partners evaluated potential costs for the designs in bronze, with a fine art founder. However, this would prove too costly for the University at this point. The project was then put on hold while Paolozzi spent a year or so in Berlin.

On his return, new drawings and half-scale plasters for all of the panels were made. Aluminium was selected this time around, as a lighter and cheaper material than bronze.

The plasters and maquette were shown at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh in 1976, which resulted in the Scottish Arts Council offering support to commission the doors.

Charles Henshaw Ltd. were chosen to do the casting, and so Paolozzi and Watson began creating the full-scale reliefs in plaster.

Relief Motifs: Machinery and Mackintosh

There are two major influences for the relief motifs. The first was Paolozzi’s interest in machine parts. His use of mechanical imagery acted as a symbol of the age, and these images were often expressed abstractly. Second, was his activity as a collage screenprint designer.

The imagery found on the Hunterian Art Gallery doors, and the use of low relief, stem from these two themes. Similar imagery can be found in other works Paolozzi produced in the early to mid-1970s.

The screenprint ‘Mr Peanut’, produced in 1970, and a series of woodcuts ‘For Charles Rennie Mackintosh’, from 1975, share similarities to the Hunterian Art Gallery doors.

Paolozzi was also inspired by an image he found in a German magazine called ‘Kosmos’, which looked to represent music. This influence is felt within the geometric pattern and rhythm of the doors.

Many of the elements repeat across the various panels, but there is no attempt to create a regular pattern. The motifs used are continually recycled, turned upside down, or repositioned as punctuations in the design, which floats gently in front of the vertically striated background.

The panels display a coherent abstract design, ranging and flowing right across the four doors. Bits of them change and vary depending on the patterns and background – as well as where you are standing when you look at them.

The ‘Paolozzi Doors’ and ‘Art in Architecture Awards’

Paolozzi and Watson produced the full-size reliefs in plaster for the casting, and the doors were then cast in the spring of 1977. They were exhibited at the Hayward Gallery that summer.

They weren’t finished and installed until April 1981. It was this year that the doors were entered into the ‘Art in Architecture Awards’, run by The Saltire Society.

The society’s aim was to promote the art and culture of Scotland. The ‘Art in Architecture Awards’ were made on a three-yearly basis, for works of art which were specifically designed and incorporated as intrinsic parts of buildings.

The artworks accepted for entry had to be located in Scotland, and could include sculpture, painting, designs in tilework and mosaic, tapestry, and even stained glass.

The ‘Paolozzi Doors’ were awarded joint first place, alongside what was at the time the longest outdoor mural in the UK – the ‘Bonnybridge Mural’. This mural was painted on the exterior of the Smith and Wellstood foundry in Bonnybridge, as part of the firm’s celebration of 125 years of stove and cooker manufacture.

Paolozzi at The Hunterian

The gallery’s entrance doors represent a small part of the Paolozzi artwork at The Hunterian. We hold some 450 works by Paolozzi in the art collection – ranging from scrapbooks, collages, drawings, photolithographs, etchings, reliefs, models and sculptures (in bronze, plaster, papier mache, plastic, and wood).

One of his sculptures, ‘Rio’, originally on display in our Sculpture Courtyard, is currently on loan at Hospitalfield in Arbroath. It is a three-dimensional bronze collage, and is an outstanding example of Paolozzi’s art from the 1960s. This was a time when he was exploring human relationships with machines through three-dimensional grouping. Read more about ‘Rio’.

Currently on display in our rehang (but due to come down temporarily during the forthcoming Trembling Museum exhibition), and from a similar period to the installation of the doors, is an untitled collage design for a mural in the Tottenham Court Road London Underground station.

The design is from 1981 and was later fulfilled as a mosaic throughout the whole station. This also highlights the interest Paolozzi had in fusing art with architecture. Following redevelopment of the station, parts of the mosaic are now part of the University of Edinburgh’s collections.

As well as this, a bronze sculpture entitled ‘Euston Head’ also features as part of the Hunterian Art Gallery’s rehang, as part of an exploration of what makes a portrait.

For the full range of Paolozzi works at The Hunterian, explore our online collections portal.

The ‘Paolozzi Doors’ welcome visitors into our recent reframing of our collections. You can plan your visit through The Hunterian website. Next time you visit us, be sure to stop and look at the wonderful doors on your way in!

There are more brilliant blogs stretching right across our collection for you to enjoy – covering art, coins, medals and much more!