For some time now Bronstein’s work has been of interest to a broad cross-section of the visual arts – part draftsman, part architect, part surrealist, part choreographer, part classicist – his work occupies a unique position. On paper the show should be a bitty series of works distributed throughout the ICA and the mall, moving between installation and paper works, performances and paintings, but with an elegant irreverence for convention Bronstein manages to make a coherent narrative from his multivalent practice.
In the now open-plan ground-floor gallery space we find a vast one-point perspective painting of a regency courtyard forming the backdrop to a changing series of choreographed performances. A dancer skips and gestures and poses around a collection of empty plinths and seems to inhabit the John Nash-inspired painting within the John Nash ICA itself. This could be taken as a metaphor, as a parody or simply as an aesthetic event; either way it is deeply seductive.
Deeper into the ICA, Bronstein has installed a deep blue room with high windows, the exterior of which is topped with a decorative moulding. Light streams into this theatre-within-a-theatre through the false windows. It is a life-size model in which no life seems to be going on, repetitive and empty like a perfect modernist box, but ornate and still, like a classical room from one of Bronstein’s drawings.
Lining the walls of the stairs are sixty-six drawings of Designs for the Ornamentation of Middle Class Houses. Each is a variation on a dumb façade, with the addition of certain embellishments. It makes us think about the role of decoration – what each piece of ornamentation might communicate, how that relates to class, and do these drawings have any classical heritage. Are they pastiche, or the real thing, or does that even matter?
Bronstein is more than a draftsman, rather he imbues his works with a sort of narrative quality similar to Italian surrealism. The sense of pathos and waiting one finds in De Chirico are present in the long shadows and open skies of Bronstein's drawings. The large framed works in the top two galleries are where Bronstein really stretched his legs. Erecting of the Paternoster Square Column 2008 shows a large single column in the process of installation. It is a remarkable piece of drawing which is convincing not as a pastiche but a possibility. His work demonstrates an affinity for how architecture and sculpture intervene in personal identity and inform our movements and social mores. One cannot help but endlessly speculate upon the possible narratives at play behind the drawings.
The show represents a sea-change in curatorial leadership at the ICA. When I was at Art College it was nicknamed the "Institute of Conceptual Art" because of its bent for arcane and difficult performances and installations. Bronstein's drawings are a welcome return to a broader programme of works.
-- Mike Tuck
Images Courtesy Herald St Gallery
Images: Pablo Bronstein, Tragic Stage, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 3.5 x 16 m / 11.5 x 53 ft; Performance view Pablo Bronstein; Interior scheme in Cuban mahogany and tropical green, 2011, Ink and watercolour on paper, 138 x 152 cm / 54.3 x 59.8 in (framed)