(Italy 1940– )
183.0 x 250.0 x 190.0cm installed:
a-b - two plaster busts; 65 x 45 x 30cm; each
c - pieces of broken bust; variable
Guilio Paolini came to international note as a leading member of the arte povera group in Italy in 1967. Like the others, he uses found materials and often introduces historical and literary references into his imagery. Works such as this have a poetic quality that is common with arte povera and yet there is a strong conceptual and critical streak that is not normally associated with the group. Many of his installations directly critique assumptions about art history and play with the rules of perspective to disclose their paradoxical illusionism.
‘L’altra figura’ (the other figure) is a deceptively simple play on the classical theme. The two heads raised on plinths to the height of a modestly sized viewer are identical plaster casts of a Roman copy of an earlier Hellenistic bust. The busts show the heads slightly at an angle to the body, their faces turned to reflect each other precisely. This slightly sideways glance lends a degree of animation to what would otherwise be a static mirroring. It is as if they have both just turned to catch the other's gaze; perhaps it is the dramatic incident that has just occurred between them. On the floor surrounding the two plinths is the manifest evidence of a minor disaster. Another bust that seems to have crashed to the floor, shattering into multiple pieces of plaster, is just barely recognisable as the third of a kind. The twins may be thought of as a related pair or a mirroring of one but three is the beginning of an indefinite number, suggesting infinite reproducibility or endless cloning.
A common theme of Paolini’s work investigates representational strategies in art since the Renaissance, including modernist aspirations to find the essence of things. Mirroring is the most immediate form of mimetic representation so it is reasonable to begin to see this as a work that follows this line. The Greco-Roman heads also incline us to suspect narratives from antiquity.
Could the smashed figure lying on the ground, in a more-or-less circular arrangement, be the rippled effect of the reflection in a pool disturbed by Narcissus reaching out to caress his own loved image? This would certainly be a poetic take on the impossibility of possessing the desired object in representation.
The degree of fragmentation of the third head also suggests a fall from a great height; could this be the mythical Icarus, who ignored his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun? This pragmatic warning masks a greater peril since the sun is Apollo riding across the sky in his chariot. Apollo for Plato was the ultimate source of pure form, something representation could never capture, although neo-Platonists and modernists dreamt of doing so. Poor Icarus got carried away and soared towards this great source but was struck down by the jealous god for his presumption.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
Juliana Engberg (Australia) (Author), Mortality, 2010, (colour illus.). no pagination
Anthony Bond (England; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Wayne Tunnicliffe (New Zealand; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 2006, 362, 363 (colour illus.), 430.
'Mervyn Horton's bequest' by Michael Wardell, pg. 11-12, Look Jun 2004, Jun 2004, 11, 12 (colour illus.).
'Arte Povera - Art from Italy 1967-2002' by Anne Loxley, The Sydney Morning Herald 25 Sep 2002, 25 Sep 2002, (colour illus.).
'The hall of mirrors' by Peter Timms, pg. 31-33., Art Monthly Australia Jun 2002, Jun 2002, 32 (illus.).
Museum of Contemporary Art (Australia, estab. 1989), Arte Povera: Art from Italy 1967-2002, Sydney, 2002, 88 (colour illus.), 89. no catalogue numbers
Bruce James (Australia) (Author), Edmund Capon (England; Australia, b.1940) (Director), Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, Domain, 1999, 74 (colour illus.).
Ewen McDonald (Australia) (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, Sydney, 1994, 260 (colour illus.).
Art Gallery of New South Wales (Australia, estab. 1874) (Author), Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers
Nick Waterlow (Australia) (Director), The 1988 Australian Biennale: From the Southern Cross: a view of world art c1940-1988, Sydney, 1988, 216, 217 (illus.). no catalogue numbers
Annabel Davie (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales Handbook, Domain, 1988, 100 (illus.).
Acquisitions from the Komon, Salkauskas and Horton Funds, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 05 May 1987–31 May 1987.
Australian Biennale 1988: From the Southern Cross: A View of World Art c1940-1988, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 18 May 1988–03 Jul 1988.
Australian Biennale 1988: From the Southern Cross: A View of World Art c1940-1988, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], 04 Aug 1988–18 Sep 1988.
Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994.
Arte Povera: Art from Italy 1967-2002, Museum of Contemporary Art, 23 Aug 2002–10 Nov 2002.
Revolutions - Forms That Turn: 2008 Biennale of Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 18 Jun 2008–07 Sep 2008.
Mortality, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 07 Oct 2010–28 Nov 2010.