In the late 1960s Guilio Paolini emerged as a leading figure in Art Povera, a term coined by curator Germano Celant in 1967 to describe a group of radical Italian artists. By the end of the decade, Paolini was producing work that distinguished his concerns from those of his cohorts. The major conceptual and stylistic developments that occurred at this point in Paolini’s trajectory generated what remains widely considered to be some of the artist’s most compelling and evolutionary work. A remarkable example from this important period for the artist, Il Vero demonstrates Paolini’s progressive preoccupation with the complexities and myths of representation, as well as his fundamental investigation of what constitutes a work of art beyond its materiality.
Composed of five elements, including printed paper collage and a combination of ink and graphite on paper, the present work explores the dynamic relationship between drawing, perception and the nature of “seeing.” The composition is bordered by highly ornate drawings that reference the stylistic etchings of the Classical period. However, the work’s layered and collaged elements deliberately obstruct any potential for the spectator to access the entire image. This aesthetic choice cements a picture that obstructs the spectator’s privileged vantage point. Paolini’s strategy “alludes to the total potential that these images might be. But it leaves us out of the scene completely because we can’t see them” (G. Paolini quoted in R. Spence, “Giulio Paolini at Whitechapel Gallery,” Financial Times, 11 July 2014, www.ft.com).
Devoid of visual access to the complete picture, the spectator is offered limited information. At the same time, they are offered the proposition that is implicitly evoked by the work’s title Il Vero, meaning “the true.” The title establishes the poetic gesture at the heart of the work, which poses a question about art’s philosophical or ontological significance. Though “the true” emphasizes a single entity, Il Vero achieves something that cannot be proscribed by any one image: the infinite imagination. In this way, Paolini empowers the mind as the greatest tool of artistic creation. Il Vero departs from the confines of pure optics and transcendently emerges as a unique approach to the creative possibilities of what can be defined as art. As the artist later explained, “I want to be the observer who sees... all the possibilities of relationship or absence of relationship between that image and us” (G. Paolini quoted in Arte Povera, London, 1999, p. 135).
An artist of extraordinary ability and intellectual sophistication, Paolini creates a cerebral composition that recycles classicism in a mode that reframes the ideas about the interrelationship between the past and present. Il Vero evidences a self-reflexive discourse on perception and the visual traditions of the classical world as it conjures up a reality that simultaneously reveals and conceals the artifice inherent to art.