Spazio -1 Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati Collection coinciding with the inauguration of LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura is presenting a monographic exhibition entitled, “Mnemosine Theatre. GIULIO PAOLINI d’après WATTEAU” devoted to Italian artist Giulio Paolini (Genoa, 1940). The exhibition is part of series of initiatives devoted to the artists exposed in the Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati Collection. The idea for the project originated from one of the works in the collection, Mnemosine (les Charmes de la Vie/7), 1981-84, which was acquired in 2007 and shown at the Spazio -1 since its opening in 2012. It belongs to a cycle of six works entitled Mnemosine (les Charmes de la Vie, 1981- 1990). In this exhibition, under the artist’s personal supervision, the cycle is reunited for the first time in Lugano.
Paolini originally planned the cycle Mnemosine (les Charmes de la Vie) in nine episodes to be executed over a period of nine years, a number closely associated with the goddess Mnemosyne. In fact, the nine “scenes” were later condensed into only six parts. According to the myth, Mnemosyne – the personification of memory, whose name itself has nine letters –was loved by Zeus with whom she slept for nine nights, thus engendering the nine Muses. Paolini created this cycle dedicated to the goddess of memory over a period of nine years and it is a good summation of his personal aesthetic which always harks back to moments in art history and myth.
Paolini’s glorification of Mnemosyne draws its visual inspiration from the work of the eighteenth century French painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau, entitled Les Charmes de la Vie (ca. 1718). Watteau’s painting depicts a group of persons enjoying life’s pleasures under a colonnade in cheerful garden. In Paolini’s interpretation, the painting represents an idealized scene consecrated to the nine Muses, a moment of synthesis and celebration of the arts, A copy of the painting – which Paolini delegated to a set painter – has been enlarged to the size of a theatre backdrop and is divided into nine equal parts. Each of the six works in the cycle contains one or more canvasses that reproduce one or more of the details in Watteau’s painting, which serves as the common denominator for the entire series.
But the ensemble doesn’t include the figures Watteau arranged in the foreground and yet the scene is not uninhabited, because we as the observers have become part of it. We are participants (actors or spectators) whose task is to “complete” the picture. Paolini’s aim wasn’t to progressively recompose the old painting, but rather, as curator Bettina Della Casa explains, he “opted for the fragment over the systemic whole, for creative appropriation over rigorous analysis of the sources”.
The recurring presence of the physical materials of painting – canvasses oriented in different directions, frames and cornices – evoke the original without ever making it real. At the same time every part of the cycle refers to the main elements that contribute to the sense of space in Watteau’s painting, in a sort of mise-en scène that has been intentionally amplified to the nth degree: the painting as space for representation, a “stage” to be viewed by spectators.