New York

Giulio Paolini

From framing a can of paint in 1961 to framing his signature in 1973, Giulio Paolini has encompassed most of the basic moves of Conceptual art and arte povera. But his special concern has always been the validity of the image, which has often taken the form of conceptual installations incorporating fragments of plaster casts of classical sculptures with overt references to the Renaissance and the idea of perspective. In general the subject of his work is Platonism, the idea complex involving an ideal mind-realized order that is mathematically precise and at the same time absolutely beautiful and mysterious.

Here Paolini exhibited his installation Trionfo della rappresentazione (Triumph of representation, 1985). Each of three slide projectors mounted on pedestals in the center of the gallery projected a discrete image onto one of three walls. The first image was that of a slide projector projecting out at the viewer; beside it, two men in antiquated clothing held boxes of torn photographs; lines converging on the image of the projector implied a diagram of a vanishing point. The second image was the same as the first, but with three men instead of two, and the contents of the boxes had become vaguely solid. The third image showed four men and twice as many convergence lines; the contents of the boxes had become flat planes that tended to fly out into the perspectival space, pointing to the boundary between representation and reality.

During the Renaissance, space was worshiped, in the words of Henry More, as “One, Simple, Immobile, Eternal...Existing in Itself, Subsisting by itself, Incorruptible, Necessary. . .Incomprehensible, Omnipresent, Incorporeal. . .Pure Act” The renewal of primal wonder at the mysterious perfection of space was due primarily to the recovery of the system of delineating perspective, which had been used in Greco-Roman times but not in medieval Europe. The mathematics of perspectival space seemed to certify it as a veritable Platonic ideal directly available everywhere. The building up of space out of the series point-line-plane is like the myth of Creation, but with geometry as the structuring force. In Paolini’s installation, the increasing number of subjective viewpoints is an allegory of this process, a celebration of space as pure spirit and hence as consciousness.

The theme of perspective raises one of the issues of idealist philosophy, the question of where the mind ends and the world begins; a reciprocity is implied, as in classical Neoplatonist texts like Plotinus’ Enneads. Paolini’s slide projectors project from as well as onto the wall: the representation has created the original. The subject of this work is, essentially, the enigma of idealist philosophy: whether the world arises from consciousness or consciousness from the world.

Thomas McEvilley