Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Giulio Paolini at Lisson Gallery

Posted in Reviews by va801km on January 25, 2009


This exhibition confronts, in a post-minimal style, humankind’s obsession with logic and our confusion and obstinacy when it fails.

Appropriate to the search for transparency, it is an airy arrangement of spotlit plexiglass and white paper. Within beautifully constructed cubes and vitrines, elements balance and poise against perfectly symmetrical backdrops; but they also escape containment, proliferate, and lie shattered in pieces.

The largest work is alone in the middle of the front ground floor gallery, prominently visible from the street. A pyramid of plexiglass cubes sits straight on the floor. In one of the lower quarters a Photostat of a man in shirtsleeves and waistcoat kneels with his back to you, pen poised at the exact intersection with the other cubes; he is surrounded by shards of more plexiglass, which emerge at the base into the viewer’s space, implicating you in his fruitless quest for control. Above him a crystal globe rests among small precise plexiglass squares, a middle rung to the aspiring heights of empty perfection in the small top cube. It is all replicated in myriad ever-decreasing reflections in the smooth clear surfaces. The title ‘Immacolata Concezione. Senza Titolo/Senza Autore’ (‘Immaculate Conception. Without Title/Without Author’), combines biblical reference with the idea of the author/artist ‘begetting’ the perfect work.

In the main gallery space smaller sculptures and wall reliefs continue the themes of mathematical enquiry and the failure to find or communicate the answer. Lettere da Torina, 1888 (Letters from Turin, 1888) contains fragments of photocopied writings and pseudo-geometrical drawings torn up as if in frustration and trapped between plexiglass planes; the lines appear deeply scored and overdrawn as if in a gesture of reassertion, warding off doubt. (The letters referred to are the last written by Nietzsche during his mental breakdown). In Apocalisse da Camera (Chamber Apocalypse), a series of frames containing one another fail to contain the drawing at their centre, which hangs skewed , with other papers scattering to the floor from its corner.

The upstairs gallery shows twenty-eight collage studies which give further clues. Disproportionate lumps of coal balance on baroque chairs, and little figures in Regency dress mark points with sticks; as if making a metaphor of the enlightenment, (transfer of faith from blind religion to the empirical ‘purity’ of science) and the industrial revolution (the means of mechanical reproduction), to represent our contemporary loss of faith in the artist as author, the artwork as fait accompli, and the gallery as marker of value and status, leading to a proliferation of meanings.

The repeated motifs of thwarted enquiry seem a testament to the characters’ mettle in their determination to go on searching for an apex; a little like the experience for the viewer – the show is deliberate, uncompromising, admirable, but almost too lucid, a self-contained and self-critical enquiry leaving little for us to question.

Giulio Paolini
Lisson Gallery 52-54 Bell Street, NW1 5DA
26 Nov 08 – 17 Jan 09
Image: Immacolata Concezione. Senza Titolo/Senza Autore (detail)


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