Rather than organizing the works in Nathalie Du Pasquier’s exhibition “Big Objects Not Always Silent” chronologically or thematically, artist and curator Luca Lo Pinto has positioned them intuitively, producing a show that unfolds like a game of hide-and-seek. Spanning thirty-five years of the artist’s multifaceted career and held in a single gallery at the institution, the presentation displays paintings, furniture, textile designs, and assemblages side by side in five rooms (temporarily constructed for the show) and the various open spaces between them.
The installation as a whole resembles a large, colorful apartment. The exterior of the central room features wallpaper bearing a circuitry-like pattern; a single wall with striped wallpaper extends out into the gallery from one of the room’s edges. Inside the room, the walls are painted white (the interiors of the other rooms are pink, light blue, ocher, and gray) and hung with Du Pasquier’s still lifes and other paintings. Also on view in this space are sketches for textile patterns, a sofa upholstered in at least four different fabrics, and a table with a laminate top in strident colors—works that date from Du Pasquier’s artistic beginnings, as a designer for the now legendary Italian design and architecture collective the Memphis Group.
The Bourdeaux-born Du Pasquier arrived in Milan in 1979, a couple years before Memphis, spearheaded by Ettore Sottsass, would unleash a postmodern design revolution. Du Pasquier, who never received formal training and says of her involvement in the group that she was just around at the right moment and needed money, became one of the collective’s youngest founding members. Working under the motto “form follows fun,” Memphis produced exuberant furniture and fabrics that were in complete opposition to the reductive forms and patterns of 1970s design. Du Pasquier’s designs, often inspired by her extensive travels, especially throughout Africa, were key components of the Memphis look.
After the group disbanded, in 1987, Du Pasquier embarked on her career as a sculptor and painter. Throughout this career, one of her vital interests seems to have been how particular forms might change from medium to medium through a kind of translation. The show illustrates the specific elements that have constituted what she calls her “alphabet of signs.” A red glass bottle, for example, appears in multiple works (all undated): the actual object is paired with funnels and wooden bricks in an assemblage, while its image is depicted in the still-life paintings Bottiglia rossa dietro (Red Bottle in Background) and Tavolo marrone con tutto (Brown Table with Everything). In her assemblages, Du Pasquier plays with mundane objects to create new structures: cups might be turned upside down, say, or stacked to create small columns. Visitors might just feel like Alice in Wonderland: only here can a small red baking dish glued to a green glass bottle appear like a toadstool mushroom.
Du Pasquier’s paintings have become more abstract over time. Bit by bit she has stopped making still lifes of found objects, instead depicting blocky wooden assemblages that she has created herself, examples of which are included in the show as independent works. In the artist’s book accompanying the exhibition, Du Pasquier mentions that she strives simply to put “elements together that are interesting to paint.” That her painting practice has such an accessible starting point is hardly surprising, given her background in design. In fact, her material transformations merge the concerns of fine art and design so thoroughly that distinguishing them seems beside the point.