Museums and exhibitions Reviews

Pablo Bronstein Wall Pomp

Pablo Bronstein at the Pallant House Gallery

Classicism reigns in Chichester.  The grand atrium of the Pallant House Gallery has been queered.

Pablo Bronstein has created a site-specific piece of art which plays with art history in a gorgeously intelligent way. Using 3D modelling technology, printed onto a flat wallpaper design, he references the wallpapers of the Eighteenth century which copied designs from Ancient Rome.

Pablo’s flat wallpaper surface belies an almost tactile stone quality to the mausoleums and eery depth through shadowed effect from the light of the window. The urns are fleshy and sensual – revealing design features impossible in stone, such as the intricate fruit carving and the handles – yet inhabit no space.

Queen Anne and Queer Architecture

The Pallant House Gallery is built around a Queen Anne town house. The Queen Anne period (different to the Queen Anne style) belies a calm classicism which looks back to the drama of the late Stuart English baroque and to the more austere neo-Palladianism of Burlington, as epitomised by Chiswick House.

The staircase is a monumental focal point of the house, visible from the original entrance, it draws the eyes upwards to the windows and the chandelier. Carved with a rococo-esque swirl on the balustrade and a more stately corinthian pilasters on the half panelling, it is a statement piece.

The monumental urns in the piece are inspired by the Bavarian neoclassical architect François de Cuvilliés the Younger whilst other elements are ‘semi-invented and semi-copied’ from designs by French Neoclassical architect called Jean-Laurent Le Geay and drawn from architectural source books.

It is a place of display and performance.

The effect is made more powerful by the fact the modern day visitors enter from behind, through the servants’ passageway.

Class and the classics

During the Eighteenth Century, aristocratic travellers visited the Mediterranean to complete their education  Often but not always young men, they also went to sow their wild oats before taking up their duties.

The milordi were very popular in Italy, and especially Rome. They were rich and spent money widely. They brought back antiquities. A roaring trade in restoring ancient art boomed during their period. Many of the restorations gave completely new meanings to ancient works of art. They also identified anonymous sculpture with noted ancients which would raise the value. Some artists also specialised in fakes for the ignorant English, who took sculpture back to their country homes.

Members of the Middle Class, who were unable to visit the continent, emanated their betters by design books and wallpapers.

Here the classics is a signifier of wealth, leisure, education and taste. It signifies cultural capital.

Classical art and architecture also symbolised eternal values, both as representations of a higher form of culture but also as exemplars of natural rules. In Britain, the spacing of columns was carefully calculated according to rules first set down by Palladio and shared by Inigo Jones and Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. Or they were meant to be, anyway.

Duck and Shed

Bronstein is fascinated by the theory of the architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour . Venturi posited two types of building, the Duck and the Shed. The Duck is a building which signifies exactly what they are – a hot dog stand shaped as a hot dog, for example. Decorated sheds are building which need to signify exactly what they are through additional signs – a normal shop front with images of hot dogs and a sign saying “hot dogs” for example.

“Wall Pomp” blurs the line between these two forms. The space is imbued with the classic, but Pablo’s work does not just add another level of the classic onto the stairwell. Rather he questions the notion of the classic and unpicks the connections between classical motifs and elite display. By playing with the sense of space, he makes the space itself more visible and by playing with the rules of classicism, he reveals how artificial they are.

An absolutely brilliant work which shows why Pablo Bronstein is the finest artist working today.


Pablo Bronstein Wall Pump
Pablo Bronstein Wall Pomp from the first storey