Pablo Bronstein

Pablo Bronstein is the latest artist to take on the challenge provided by Galleria Franco Noero’s new space in the Casa Scaccabarozzi, a quirky building designed by the nineteenth-century architect Alessandro Antonelli and known locally as the “slice of polenta” because of its extremely narrow triangular shape. Titling his exhibition “Palazzi Torinesi” (Palaces of Turin), Bronstein immersed himself in this princely milieu to revisit and reimagine some of the city’s landmark buildings in works in a range of media, from painting to video, spread over six floors.

Gone were the capriccios grafting postmodern onto Baroque that Bronstein has become known for, replaced by a more focused investigation of civic identity as constructed and staged through architecture. The bluster of Antonelli’s facade, swiftly undermined by the realization that it is merely a veneer for a diminutive interior, was mirrored by the subject of the first work on the ground floor of the gallery: Palazzo Madama (all works 2008), a large oil painting of the building that now houses Turin’s Civic Museum of Ancient Art, a palimpsestuous monument with an elaborate eighteenth-century Baroque façade superimposed onto a fifteenth-century palace, which itself incorporated and subsumed a thirteenth-century castle and a Roman gate. Set by Bronstein in a strangely abandoned piazza that recalls the disquieting metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, this discordant scene evoked clichéd touristic views and their definition of a city’s image, resembling a souvenir from some imaginary eighteenth-century Grand Tour.

Palazzo Madama found both its counterpart and its antithesis in the video Passeggiata (Promenade), screened on the fourth floor of the gallery, in which two male dancers pose, stroll, and twirl before the painted backdrop exhibited downstairs. Filmed in the artist’s studio, the dancers enact a series of sprezzatura gestures bossily choreographed by an off-camera Bronstein, whose commands are only just audible against the sound track of generically insistent electronic music. The title of the work refers to the ritual of the early evening stroll, still enacted across Italy to this day. The preening of the two dancers alludes to the way in which both citizens and city put themselves on display, while the stagey backdrop and mannered camping of the performers foreground the theatricality of Turin’s most famous building itself.

On the second floor, a suite of eight photographs titled Exhibition of Piedmontese Baroque, 1963, took installation shots from the catalogue of an exhibition held in part at Palazzo Madama. Elsewhere, on the fourth floor, Large Building with Courtyard Incorporating Façade of Palazzo Carignano, an ink-and-wash drawing set in an elaborate antique frame, and two pairs of drawings based on designs for commemorative plates, replete with images of Turin’s Royal Palace and the chapel of the Shroud of Turin, completed this recherché mash-up of outmoded styles and vernaculars by zeroing in on buildings, like the gallery in which the show was held, that were once private but had become public. At once an expansion and a deepening of Bronstein’s repertoire, the exhibition suggested that invoking references is as much about taste as constructing an edifice. Bronstein is playing with style through notions of verisimilitude and virtuosity—both a desire for these traits and a recognition of their potential obsolescence—as much as he is manipulating the imagery of facades, pilasters, and proportions.

Nicholas Cullinan