Pablo Bronstein review by Eliza Apperly
Sketches for Regency Living isn’t the first time Pablo Bronstein has played with rooms at the ICA. In 2005, the artist’s Concept for a Public Square distorted and disrupted gallery space with a knee high wall delineating an empty zone which visitors awkwardly skirted about. In this new show, billed as his most ambitious to date, Bronstein’s interaction with the ICA premises extends across the entire Nash House building. Through entrance hall, theatre, galleries and stairways, Bronstein responds to and reinvents the building’s space and style with an interdisciplinary invasion of sculpture, drawing, film, furniture and dance.
The entrance to the exhibition is dominated by Tragic Stage - a vast, illusionistic painting of a Georgian-style forecourt against the wall of the lower gallery. It is monumental in scale, meticulous in detail and serves as a grandiose backdrop to daily choreographed performances. In printed costumes by London-based designer Mary Katrantzou, dancers intermittently appear before the great trompe l’oeil court to gesture, pace, flounce and pose. Even without its title, the theatricality of the piece is inescapable - and its suggestions striking. If the show proclaims to investigate the ways in which architecture informs our movements and manners, the implication of this initial intervention is that human behaviour may be as stylised, studied and ornamented as the structures built about us. As in Bronstein’s Balletto Neoclassico of 2007, Tragic Stage’s union of architecture and dance develops one great synthesis of a show - a spectacle in which stone built upon stone appears as much of a contrived performance as step choreographed after step.
As we wander on through the exhibition, what nudges this enquiry further is the mirroring between Bronstein’s installations and the actual architecture of the ICA building. Witty and unsettling at once, likenesses emerge everywhere, from black and white sketches lining the ICA’s black and white tiled stairs to a self-contained Neo-Classical ‘stage’ within the ICA’s designated theatre. It’s like some many-layered house of mirrors, constantly reflecting shapes, styles, shades or functions. We become as alert to the existing architecture of the Institute as to the architecture presented in Bronstein’s four-month show. So too, then, do we begin to consider our own comportment in different architectural contexts, just as we observed those dancers at the start of the show. Do my movements acquire a certain inflection beneath this great Regency ceiling’
It’s not all a heavy-duty identity examination, though. With Bronstein’s draughtsmanship, drawings such as those up the stairs, Designs for Ornamentation of Middle Class Houses, can be appreciated too for their pure precision and loveliness - all simple lines and shades and ever-so-slightly different detailing (though not without a certain de Chirican unease….). The ‘metamorphic’ furniture pieces in the Upper Gallery, Large Cabinet Office and Pair of Consoles / Campaign Bed, are pretty brilliant performances in themselves - children’s magic show meets carpenter’s apogee through secret doors and hidden hinges and surprise after fold out surprise.