Diann Bauer's dazzling drawings
A cartoon Sistine stairwell at Pictet Asset Management
30 March 2009
Pictet, a Swiss private bank, recently revealed the latest addition to its art collection – site-specific wall drawings by Diann Bauer covering the stairwell of its London headquarters. Norman Foster designed the stairwell, so its 17 tonnes of concrete and reinforcing doesn't pretend to hide itself. 15 feet in diameter, it is a unique space. Many wouldn’t even have thought of installing art in it. Pictet confidently took a different view, commissioning Diann Bauer to produce six vast drawings. The huge, unprotected sheets of paper, too large for the artist’s own studio, hang on the stairwell walls suspended simply by magnets.
Recalling the cartoons stenciled onto walls for renaissance Frescos, the technique used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Bauer’s drawings are a wild combination of breasts and horses and clouds and people being ripped apart - perhaps unwittingly bringing together finance and tragedy, a Last Judgment. In counterpoint to Foster’s precise design however, the style of Bauer’s drawings is inspired not by Michelangelo but the pop-eyed absurdity of Terry Gilliam, cartoons in both the sense of an outline and a parody.
In a recent interview Bauer said, “architectonic language in the form of drawings and models, is something that has always haunted my practice.” Architectonic language can sound like mumbo-jumbo but in Pictet’s stairwell it is where architecture and drawing come together. Too often stairwells are merely utilitarian, paths between floors. Here the path becomes an exciting journey. Your progress up or down is literally made through the drawing. It confronts you from constantly changing angles, from up close to far away, directly and obliquely. It is a drawing that draws you along.
As long as Pictet's employees and clients know what they have (and can keep their grubby fingers off it when descending the staircase) then what an asset, in every sense, Pictet has won. Sadly, largely only employees and clients will have the pleasure of seeing it. Corporate and private collectors alike usually do not have the time or resources to give the public access to their collections and at present there is no formal Open House exhibition program covering London. There should be. Certainly some collectors are covetous of their horde but plenty would be only too happy to share their collections with the public. All it would need is a little coordination. As to whether such a program would be successful, one need only look to the great popularity and influence of open private collections, such as the Saatchi Gallery in London and the Boros and Hoffmann collections in Berlin.
I envy those working at Pictet, seeing and living with this space everyday, everyday seeing something different in these complex cartoons, everyday a confronting joy – not what most people get when they pick up their morning coffee.
Thanks to The Contemporary Art Society and Pictet Asset Management.
For more information see - www.paradiserow.com
© Diann Bauer, Sabine Descent (Wall Drawing), installation view (detail), 2009
Commissioned by Pictet & Cie London, curated by Contemporary Art Society
(photo: Steve White, courtesy Pictet London Collection)