As an artist whose reputation seems to increase with every passing decade, there’s no excuse needed for a show of Eduardo Paolozzi’s work. But the centenary of his birth is a good one and deserves marking in the city where that event occurred, so Modern Two’s small but punchy Paolozzi At 100 exhibition is as welcome as it is inspiring.

Making a virtue of its not being a retrospective, the curators have filled just two rooms and the library. They focus on Paolozzi’s early years in the first, titled Paris And London, then jump forward 20 years or so in the second, Pattern And Print. In the library are fragments from the huge mosaic he was commissioned to create for London’s Tottenham Court Road tube station.

READ MORE: Forget Warhol and Lichtenstein, Scottish artist could be the real Father of Pop Art

It’s in the second room that the curators shine a light on works from the late 1960s and early 1970s and it’s here you find the crowd-pleasers which conform most closely to our modern idea of Pop Art: prints on paper and cotton piqué, textiles, tapestries, shiny table-top sculptures and ceramics in the form of three crazily pattered Wedgwood plates complete with their lurid pink Perspex presentation case. Kitsch as it comes.

Through their designs, materials and motifs some of this stuff anticipates the work of artists such as Jeff Koons, and much of it sits in healthy dialogue with Andy Warhol’s output of the same period. Stand back to appreciate a 1967 tapestry produced in conjunction with Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studio, then still located in Corstorphine in the west of the city, and you’ll even see a pixelated Mickey Mouse peering out.

Always remember, though, that Warhol’s ‘low culture’ was the low culture of his American homeland. It was ‘his’ low culture, in other words.

Paolozzi, the real Pop Art pioneer, was separated from America by an ocean and though he loved Americana and visited America often, by the late 1960s nobody could look at images like that and not catch a whiff of soft power at work. Or, for those of a Marxist bent, cultural imperialism.

So Paolozzi’s engagement with American pop culture is always done at remove. And of course he was Italian by heritage and also European, which throws Classical and Renaissance sculpture into his artistic DNA and makes him heir of sorts to the Futurists and Surrealists.

The Herald: Paolozzi at 100. Picture: Neil HannaPaolozzi at 100. Picture: Neil Hanna (Image: free)

Paolozzi brings more even than that to the party, though, and the best way to understand his work is this: imagine a Venn diagram whose three constituent parts are machines, machines-as-sculptures, and humans-as-machines, then stand at the place where they intersect and just look around you.

It’s this which gives him his continued relevance. Sure, his collage work with its cut-outs of 1950s-style robots, rockets, astronauts and satellites looks cutely retro-futuristic and amusingly analogue.

And yes, we rely on proper robotics now rather than imagined robots, and interact with machine learning and large language models (or ChatGPT, if you prefer) rather than machines with pistons and hydraulics. But not much has really changed.

So as the time approaches when driverless cars, wearable tech and subcutaneous implants become normalised, you can’t not look at screen-prints such as Automobile Head, a sculpture like His Majesty The Wheel, or examine his set of three collages on book illustrations – classical statues whose perfect bodies are fused with machinery parts – and not see a visionary artist at work.

The final factor giving Paolozzi’s art its oomph is its ‘getability’. Children love it, and it’s no accident that his contribution to public art is rich and well-populated or that the grounds of Modern One and Two have hosted much of it over the years.

READ MORE: BBC SSO/Volkov review: City Halls, Glasgow - a world-class display

Adults in the exhibition can nod approvingly at texts explaining the artist’s innovative approach to casting sculpture – this involved ‘collaging’ machine parts by pressing them into clay then making moulds from that – but kids who can’t see that high to read can still understand them as figures. They can still go home and recreate their gnarly, mysterious monumentality out of whatever materials come to hand. That’s where the inspirational nature of this small exhibition really comes into its own.

Paolozzi’s first gift to the national collection, sadly not included here, came in 1964. That fact somewhat gives the lie to assumptions about misgivings he had about Edinburgh and Scotland and Scottishness (he was, after all, interned in Saughton Prison aged 16 when Italy entered the Second World War on Germany’s side).

A great many more works were gifted to us by him in 1994. Given all that, we shouldn’t have to wait for another birthday milestone before we see more of it.

We have Turner in January ever year – how about making a dip into the Paolozzi archives at least a biennial event?

Paolozzi At 100 opens at Modern Two, Edinburgh, on January 27 (until April, admission free)