Giulio Paolini

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

An unusual confrontation arose between the newly built Stuttgart Staatsgalerie and the work of Giulio Paolini. In this retrospective Paolini achieved a tour de force by turning James Stirling’s idiosyncratic architecture into an arena for his own production. One can hardly imagine a more intelligent, subtle, and therefore subversive conquest of a predetermined environment. Paolini claimed exactly those points in the museum that seem least suited for exhibition purposes: for example, the awkward hall for temporary exhibitions, or the film-and-lecture hall. He thereby influenced our perceptions longer than would be the case with an exhibition in more usual surroundings.

Paolini’s greatest success was with the rotunda at the museum’s center. Stirling conceived it as the apotheosis of his architecture; instead, the building’s highlight became the central space for Paolini’s presence, where he asked the question of location (of truth). “Dove” (where), was written in transparent letters around the rotunda. The artist gave the answer himself, with Plexiglas letters stacked upon one another: “qui” (here). Beside this, in a piece titled Liebe macht blind (Love makes blind, 1986), Paolini replaced stone slabs from the floor with blue glass. On top of these lay a pair of shoes turned upside down. They represented the remains of the artist, who, in search of beauty, had failed. The irony of this, the most beautiful installation in the retrospective, was further heightened by a work on permanent view Across from Paolini’s piece, and reflected in it, stood a classical marble statue bearing the same title. Here, Cupid covers the eyes of Venus.

Paolini united the works in the rotunda under the title “il luogo” (the location). Further stations of the exhibition were “lo studio,” “la visione,” and “il museo.” These rubrics related exemplary works to one another and illustrated Paolini’s philosophical dispute with the work of art. Perspective and painting seemed to be pictorial techniques for their own sake, a conclusion rather easily drawn from the barren esthetic of these works, done mainly in the ’60s. Empty picture planes, inverted canvases, and perspectival constructions do indeed revolve around the “absence” of these works; the concept of design, in its dual role as drawing and idea, is crucial. In the “la visione” area, significantly located in the film-and-lecture hall, the staged moment had the upper hand; here the artist, symbolically represented by the parts of a tuxedo (to which the aforementioned shoes belonged), was introduced in the role of conductor.

Under the conductor’s virtuoso direction, the viewer was confronted in “il museo” with copies and reproductions of well-known works of art. This favorite device of Paolini set thoughts on mimesis—the presence of an art work and its reception—into motion. The mirror image gained significance in this context. The viewer, drawn curiously to the mirror, suddenly not only was confronted with himself, but saw the plaster cast of a foot attached to the ceiling and reflected in a mirror, lying on the floor. This suddenly shifted view recalled Paolini’s installation in the rotunda. Narcissus caught in the act would not have an easier time of it than the artist searching for beauty.

Anne Krauter

Translated from the German by Cornelia Lauf.