17 Jul, 2009

Strange, spectral structures

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

By planting ultra-modern buildings in eerily deserted landscapes, the artist exposes the folly of the capitalist dream

A drawing of a corporate building finished in shining steel and glass rises out of the rubble of a devastated landscape. Were it not for the ultra-modern edifice, the drawing could be mistaken for the work of the 18th-century Italian artist Piranesi, famous for his fictitious images of monuments and prisons, many in a state of near-collapse. In fact it was made by Pablo Bronstein, as part of a series of fanciful studies of London’s postwar architecture.

The series, later published in a book entitled – with deadpan accuracy – Postmodern Architecture in London, began as a sightseeing tour during Frieze Art Fair in 2006, when the artist took collectors on a tour of London’s late-20th-century architecture. Bronstein’s buildings, which ranged from signature structures such as César Pelli’s overbearing Canary Wharf Tower to myriad mock-Georgian office blocks built in the late 1970s and 80s, appeared to reflect the Thatcherite economic dream: go-getting, bold and thrustingly corporate.

Bronstein, however, exposed these buildings for what they were: derivative, dreary, even rather sad. His project was concerned with understanding economic booms and busts, and how architecture reflects the social climate of its time. In 2006, when the art world was rising on a tide of affluence, Bronstein’s study of the unfashionable buildings that had enabled that very boom was an uncomfortable reminder of where the money had actually come from. He saw past the glamour and glitz, bursting the art world’s balloon.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1977, Bronstein studied at the Slade and Goldsmiths. Up until the time he graduated, he was best-known for devising site-specific performances and installations – such as staging elaborate baroque dances in industrial-looking spaces, juxtaposing two very different cultures. After college, however, he began drawing, and Postmodern Architecture was the result.

Bronstein has recently been commissioned to make a series of drawings about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which will go on show in October. His response has been to imagine the museum in a fantasy version of its past, depicting vast artefacts being transported to or installed in the gallery. They offer a sort of bittersweet nostalgia in a time of economic uncertainty, reminding us of an era when museums believed they would last for ever.

Why we like him: For a distant prospect of the Canary Wharf Tower, framed by a stone wreath that hangs with tattered leaves, and surrounded by broken architectural icons such as Philip Johnson’s AT&T building in New York. A bleaker image of yuppie ambition can barely exist. The work also features echoes of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel High Rise, in which middle-class aspiration descends into primal hell.

Pot luck: Bronstein was until recently a compulsive collector of 18th- and 19th-century British chinoiserie. Since moving house, however, he’s had to stop.

Where can I see him? Pablo Bronstein’s drawings can be seen in the group show Monument for Study at Herald Street, E2, until 2 August.

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