Paternoster Square Capriccio (2008) poses as a mysterious relic. Dark, antiqued tones bring forth a scene of curious architectural forms – domes, cupolas, façades, columns, arches, steeples, fountains, all gathered in a shadowy piazza. Surrounded by an ornate gilt frame, the imposing scene echoes the precise 18th century architectural illustrations of Piranesi or Canaletto, but
on closer inspection a clash of styles becomes evident. Gothic, Neoclassical, Baroque, and Georgian features are crowded together in a monumental fantasy: a historical artistic conceit called a capriccio, placing architectural features in outlandish combination. The scene’s dreamlike edge is deepened by its slightly warped perspective and long, deep shadows, giving a hint of Giorgio de Chirico’s oneiric surrealism. Through his confounding architectural fictions, Pablo Bronstein probes the power invested in our built environments: how are empires, ideas, and ideologies embedded in these edifices of civic grandeur? How do we an approach an image like this, with its air of museological authority? The enigmatic twilight of the present work reflects a specific concern of the artist. ‘I am particularly interested in the image of the public square, or piazza, as a symbol of democracy and citizenship. Because classicism is historically associated with democracy and public ownership of space or a building, private developments utilize classicism in order to dissimulate the profit motivation underneath the development. Very often land that was once public is manipulated into private ownership, and the public is left unaware. The architectural language of publicness is very important in this coup. And these spaces, whether they be Paternoster Square in London, or the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center, are undeniably successful’ (P. Bronstein in T. Hull, ‘Interview with Pablo Bronstein,’ Museo Magazine, 2010 [http:/www.museomagazine.com/PABLO-BRONSTEIN]). This work is in fact a reimagining of Paternoster Square, bringing to light the ‘architectural language’ of its construction. The Paternoster Column and the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral are taken from life and can still be seen today, while other elements, like the triumphal arch and pointed obelisk, are impostors.
Rather than making a glib postmodern gesture, Bronstein is directly engaged with how architecture works for people, and how appearances and history can be manipulated to different ends. Indeed, the Argentine-born artist, who now lives in London, was briefly enrolled in architectural college before switching to fine art where he was freer to explore his vision. Also working in
monumental sculpture and architecture-inspired performances that explore the ornate mannerisms of sprezzatura, he finds an imaginative joy and humanity in his melding of illusion and reality. As he explains, ‘a part of me wants these things to really exist. That
has to be the case for the drawing to have any kind of vibrancy or the dance to give any kind of pleasure. You can lie, but it’s not about an infinity of postmodern mirrors, an endless recession of meaning and truth. It’s more about creating a sort of legitimate world that you can identify with’ (P. Bronstein, quoted in K. Bell, ‘In the Studio: Pablo Bronstein,’ Art in America, 2 February 2014). In Paternoster Square Capriccio, the intriguing structures have an air of immanence: they seem to comprise both archaeological find and building site, existing in fascinating oscillation between past, present and imagined future.