By Bianca Baroni
The exhibition as an apparatus of desire. For a while I have been questioning this hypothesis, exploring the idea of the display as a body that at once incorporates and produces a bundles of impulses. Perhaps even a territory of romance. A site of unrealistic idealizations and projections, organic exchanges with the other and moments of playful eroticism. A space produced by a perfect encounter as much as it is driven by a relentless quest for balance. I have been imagining the possibility for a sensual drive to infiltrate the corpus of a show. But above all I have been questioning how could such a drive provide a metaphor to think the unfolding of an artistic practice within the space of an exhibition.
Since my recent visit of Nicolas Party’s first exhibition at kaufmann repetto, I couldn’t stop fantasizing about this scenario. For Two Naked Women, the artist has developed an organic response to the physical structure as well as the personal narratives behind the gallery. On one hand the quasi-symmetric conformation of the display mirrors the diptych of rooms articulating the space. Two parallel environments present almost specular selections of works, similar in terms of the subjects being represented and their spatial collocation. On the other hand two large charcoal drawings, respectively depicting the pale curves of a naked bather, colonize two of the major indoor walls hence dominating the binary structure of the gallery. The monumental and yet gracious presence of these female figures refers to the two feminine personalities behind kaufmann repetto. However this bipartition does not simply apply to the tangible manifestation of the work and its arrangement in relation to the context. It develops way beyond this to deal with reciprocities and encounters activated between historical precedents and pictorial clichés, between canons of representation and contemporary visual registers. Furthermore the sets of aesthetic and conceptual decisions driving the show trigger an unusual sensual exchange between the artist’s work and the viewer.
From the entrance of the gallery, the visitor is drawn into a movement of gradual approach and discovery. The representation of the subjects, as well as the configuration of the works in the exhibition, seems to suggest a slightly voyeuristic experience. The exhibition’s path situates the gaze as well as the body of the visitor throughout space, starting from the front yard where the floor is constellated of fruit-like stones and continuing with the painterly intervention on the glass doors. Like a funky clique of characters somehow playing with the tradition of the pictorial still life, the Blakam’s Stones articulate a sort of prelude, which establishes the ironic tone of the entire show. In these works I see the artist mocking and displacing some conventions of the still life in its classical declination. Not only the use of stones, inorganic by definition, somehow blinks at this artistic genre as the artificial arrangement of unanimated objects. Also, the unnatural and amorphous presence of these pieces obliterates any ambition to aestheticize or provide an accurate picture of the subject. Moving from such an inorganic garden, our eye then wonders through the doors as it tries to reach beyond the painted marks on the doors, which reduce our view of the images glowing from inside the gallery. A gesture of partial concealment that obstructs the sight as much as it raises the excitement of the viewer, just like the constriction of a peep-hole would increase the perverted curiosity of a voyeur.
Indoor two monumental nudes, one overseeing each room, crown a body of diverse pictures encompassing oneiric landscapes, still lifes and staring portraits. By juxtaposing wall-based pictures and framed pieces, landscapes and portraits, colourful pastels and black charcoals, Nicolas explores the coexistence of different spatialities within the same apparatus. Better yet, through the convergence of several scenarios, he experiments with different modes of perceiving and imagining the space. Whereas the Trees and Landscapes open up a potential space inviting the viewer to look and move through a visual territory, the inquisitive nature of the portraits contrasts these movements re-calibrating the distance between work and audience. Their intimidating expressions as well as the saturated colours shaping the heavy physicality of these figures, almost produce a sense of subjection and unease that bounces off the eye of the visitor. As much as these caricatured subjects deflect our external gaze, the position of the nudes turning their back on the public invites the audience to retrace their ungraspable gaze and the object of their focus. Most importantly they suggest an act of looking and being looked at, a simple and yet crucial gesture positioning the body in relation to the artwork.
Besides entering the experience of the viewer, such acts of reflecting, observing and positioning also seems to be very relevant within the artist’s own mode of operation, particularly concerned with the active reading of historicized practices. As a matter of fact, for the realization of these two specular figures Nicolas has drawn from Félix Vallotton’s feminine nudities, enlarging their generous shapes and transforming them into Junoesque presences. Whereas the wall-drawings retrace the main features of Vallotton’s work, here Nicolas operates a radical re-contextualization of these images by merging them with the actual physicality of the display. The artist also generates a tension between the softness of the feminine bodies and the geometries characterizing most of the other works on view. Here the specific choice of compositions and their volumetric depiction shows once again the interest of the artist to confront his own voice with those of his antecedents. Glimpses of Cezanne’s orthogonal schemes alternate with the plasticity and the subjects peculiar to Giorgio Morandi’s work. Nicolas selects and appropriates some elements of Morandi’s oeuvre - such as the use of potteries, fruits and their particular spatial reading – and re-configures them within his own personal imaginary.
He seems to particularly isolate the plastic understanding of surfaces that characterized Morandi’s early still lifes, re-inventing it through a much brighter palette as well as a peculiar caricatural register. Moreover, in Two Naked Women, the tea-pot comes back again as one of Nicolas’ most recurrent subjects, not only within his still-life pieces but also as few awkward prosthesis to the gallery’s walls. Teapot beaks shyly stick out here and there as small elephant’s trunks animating the wall and turning it into a lively and epidermic surface.
Within Nicolas’ trajectory Two Naked Women marks a natural development in his on-going re-contextualization of remote artistic genres and experiences. Through a sensual articulation of the environment the artist seems to be reaching a refined understanding of the space and the possibilities this entails for the physical encounter and reception of the work. Again, consistent with the duality that motivated the visual and conceptual framework of the project in the first place, Nicolas navigates the polarities that are integral to his work. A persistent mutuality between movements of seduction and repulsion, between the reality of the space and a metaphysical imaginary, between historical ruminations and adventurous leap forwards, between a liminal eroticism and sophisticated irony, define the subtle equilibrium foregrounding the exhibition.