Anne and Patrick Poirier

The return to myth seen in the art of the last ten-odd years was a kind of return to the mother. Yet to return to the mother, one must kill the father—if one takes at least one of those myths seriously, at any rate. Whether or no, the return to myth was inevitably difficult.

For their part of this journey, Anne and Patrick Poirier chose the route of looking at the actual past. Their reconstructions of antique cities—detailed models, often quite large in size, but small in relative scale—were made with the help of site plans and measurements of classical ruins. This scientific methodology, however, coexisted with the incorporation of subjective and irrational elements; the Poiriers’ city plans were not exact reconstructions but poetic ones. (If the father is to be killed, the stabs must be imaginatively aimed.) Their working process recalled the criminological routine of preserving the clues to a crime: they may be removed from the site in which they have their meaning, but, paradoxically, this erasure opens a way for them to have meaning in the future.

In the last five years, the Poiriers’ art has changed, as if to balance the scale. Where it was small-scale, now it is large; where it was austere, now it is decorative. In this exhibition of new and recent works, only Birth of Pegasus, 1985, and Temple of the Hundred Columns, 1986, took the form of the multipart models for which the artists became known in the early ’70s, and of these, Temple of the Hundred Columns had grown dramatically in scale——at over four yards square, its columns over a yard high, this was a piece one could almost walk through. Only Birth of Pegasus sought the miniaturization of the city reconstructions. In their small scale, those earlier works appeared as a kind of microcosm of the lost culture of the classical age, and of its mythic belief systems; they pulled the viewer into a multi-layered web of associations. The newer works forsake the evocative complexity of myth. Whether in Pegasus’ portentously symbolic golden horse rising out of blackened ruins, or in the Temple of the Hundred Columns’ approach to the real proportions of architecture, these pieces jump out at you. Furthermore, they are respectively more decorative and more monumental than the earlier work; perhaps, at least in part, because of current conditions in the art market, the painstaking and time-consuming labor that went into the reconstructive models no longer seems an option to the Poiriers, and they have replaced it with the sheen of gold or marble and with sheer size.

This is not to say that the Poiriers’ work has lost its power. Coldly observant, without nostalgia, the artists have assessed our fin de siècle situation, our failure of poetry and sensibility. Can it be that the rational, authoritarian father, the destroyer of myth, has not been killed after all? If so, the only things remaining for disillusioned utopians are resignation and irony. The latter in particular is strong in the Poiriers’ work. Et in Arcadia Ego (I too am in Arcadia, 1987) was the most impressive installation in the exhibition, both integrating with its surroundings and reflecting an ironic light on them. In this 19th-century villa’s small chapel, darkened by stained-glass windows, the words “Et in Arcadia Ego” were written on the floor. From the letters arose numerous lit candles; as in a church, one could buy these candles as one came in, then place them and light them, as if in devotion.

Anne Krauter

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.