Casa di Lucrezio is one of a series of works comprised of the same elements and bearing the same title that Giulio Paolini made between 1981 and 1984. Each of these works consists of a varying number of classical busts, plinths and coloured drapes installed in a variety of positions in a gallery space. The first work in the series, made in 1981, comprised of only two busts, two plinths, and two drapes but as the series continued, the number of these elements grew also, proliferating in accordance with one of the central themes of the work which Paolini has said was ‘the idea of the continual becoming of a possible space inhabited by poetry.’ (ibid)
The Casa di Lucrezio works were all inspired by the drawing of a labyrinth found on a pillar in the so-called ‘House of the Tragic Poet’, also known as the ‘Casa di Lucrezio’ (House of Marcus Lucretius), in Pompeii. The significance and meaning of this classical labyrinth - evidently of some importance for the citizens of Pompeii in A.D. 79 - is unknown having been lost in the passage of time. As such it served as an ideal prompt for Paolini whose art centres around the concept and articulation of human creativity as an eternal open-ended continuum - one that exists beyond the confines of time, place and medium.
For this sculpture Paolini drew a copy of the labyrinth onto a table made of plaster. This he then broke into a number fragments – fragments that illustrate the disjunctive, fragmentary nature of our understanding of history and the classical world and which speak of the labyrinthine way in which our minds reconstruct a cohesive image of the past.
The imagery of Casa di Lucrezio centres around the themes of the labyrinth and of the poet – in this case represented by a plaster copy of an angel’s head made by Alessandro Algardi. Algardi was a seventeenth century sculptor from Bologna committed to the classical ideal, a student of both Ludovico Carracci and Gain Lorenzo Bernini, he was also a restorer of classical sculptures.
In incorporating repeated copies of Algardi’s bust of an angel, Paolini sets up his own intricate and open-ended labyrinth of interpretation in this work, that typically poses questions about artistic originality and authorship. As in so many of his works, here there is no beginning and no end, no apparent authenticity or central origin for the work whose imagery plays back and forth across time. Everything exists in a state of flux and continuity, as indicated by the flowing fabric draped between and around the statues, everything is both a fragment and a copy, mimetically echoing and repeating itself as if it were an autonomous and authorless work of art created without Paolini’s intervention.
‘Once you have found your way out of the labyrinth, you are free to imagine innumerable other labyrinths, all of which lead back to the starting point.’ (Paolini quoted in Arte Povera in collezione, exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Ate Contmeporanea, Turin, 2001, p. 212).