Anne And Patrick Poirier

Beginning in the early ’70s, Giulio Paolini and Jannis Kounellis revived the use of historical classicism in the iconography of the neo-avant-garde, bringing back into circulation those particular iconic signs that until that point, at least in Europe, seemed to have been deposited forever in the storerooms of museums, excluded from any possible contemporaneity. This was despite prestigious, if entirely formal, revivals by Pablo Picasso and Giorgio de Chirico in their time: these were imperfect revivals, given the immodesty of both artists, who filtered mythical suggestions and “eternal and universal” values through their separate masterful uses of canons and forms. It was also despite the even more imperfect revivals of historical classicism by totalitarian political regimes between the two wars, with, in this case, their rather similar official art. Paolini and Kounellis neither re-create, reinterpret, nor repropose the classical world, but they draw from it, incorporating fragments of it into their respective bodies of work. They tear certain figures from a context that is clear but impossible to reconstruct entirely, then place them, as fragments, where they can. The art of the ’70s was influenced by fragmentation, fracture, “cutting.” After the quest for totality that characterized one of the more interesting directions for art of the ’60s, the following decade developed in the opposite direction, focusing on detail. The perceivable universe fragments into a constellation of signs that can no longer be traced back to a desired unity until, finally, the figure of the individual artist aggressively reappears, though this, too, is now fragmented and dispersed.

Anne and Patrick Poirier began their work as artists during the ’70s. Their use of the classical world does not have the sense of philosophical and esthetic clarity of Paolini’s work, nor the pared-down ritualism of Kounellis’ myth, so much as the romanticism of archeology. Theirs is a barbaric position in which the fragment is not the portion that remains of the whole, but the residue of destruction or catastrophe. Their archeological attitude underscores discontinuity rather than continuity; for them, time is not the builder of history, but the destroyer. This is a sentimental archeology, destitute of any analytical will. It is not as important to know the substance of the past as to sentimentally perceive its presence within the folds of the present. In fact, the fragments are never in their original places but always out of place. More than as fragments, one ought to speak of their work as ruins—the ruins of time—deliberately and purposefully chipped pieces of statues or dried leaves, real encrustations, or fake mildew. Meanings are barbaric; they are those that the barbarian discovers and recognizes from the classical world which has survived the destruction he has wrought. It is not form or the abstract symbolism of forms and material structures that survives, but rather the grandiosity of the image and the preciousness of materials—gold and marble, purples and blacks, or else the cancellation of color due to combustion.

The Poiriers function in this realm and, with stylistic elegance, restore the impressions gleaned from their traversal of the classical world: travel notes, impressions, fetishes, captious reworkings, maniacal reconstructions. The work is a kind of bricolage, in other words. They order, classify, and systematize into ephemeral structures the details of a world that is not their own but to whose grandiosity they are drawn. Despite the appearance of an underlying discourse, their assemblages end up being compositions of elements drawn from a repertory of signs that no longer refer to the original, but that have become distorted through theft and transformation, their historical meaning erased and warped.

This is precisely where the merits and the limitations of the Poiriers’ work lies. Above all it is a limitation, tying them to a mode of working that is typical of the last decade and that inexorably marks their work; whenever style is not concerned with form, it remains inevitably linked to the time that generated it.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.