Erecting of the Paternoster Square Column 2008 is a large rectangular drawing by the Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein. The work depicts a gigantic and highly ornate Corinthian column that is being raised upright using what appears to be an ancient wooden pulley and scaffolding system. Around the scaffold structure and dwarfed by its size is dotted a sparse crowd of onlookers: these tiny figures are dressed in antique-style drapery and gather in groups of two and three in an otherwise deserted landscape. The column and scaffold are shown in full at the centre of the image, and the ropes of the pulley, which are connected to the column by means of a series of pins and cables, extend diagonally from its upper part towards the left foreground of the composition, where they are attached to a large winch or cog. Three workers turn this mechanism to straighten the column above, and at the right of the drawing further teams of labourers attend to the scaffold’s numerous ropes. A featureless sky fills the top half of the work’s background, while below it, extending across the horizon, a cityscape is faintly visible. The depicted scene is surrounded by a thin brown frame, drawn onto the paper by the artist. The scene has been created on two separate sheets of paper that are attached together, such that the horizontal line of the join is visible roughly halfway up the composition.
Bronstein created this drawing in London in 2008. To make the work, he drew a grid onto the paper in graphite and rendered the drawing in ink, watercolour and more graphite. He applied a yellow-tinted wash to the paper to give it an aged appearance and areas of the drawing have been touched over with gum and resin to give the colour a richer tone. The drawing is presented in a decorative gilded frame dating from c.1650 that was selected by Bronstein and has been carved, scraped and chipped by the artist in order to give it an aged appearance. The archaic structures of the column and scaffold have been rendered by Bronstein with precise attention to detail – for instance, the individual cables, beams and tackles of the rigging machinery have been realised with what appears to be a considerable knowledge of Greco-Roman building technologies. As the architect Sam Jacob has observed, ‘The picture is drawn and framed in such a way as that one might almost believe it to be some kind of documentary evidence’ (Jacob 2013, p.12).
Erecting of the Paternoster Square Column takes its title from Paternoster Square in the City of London and forms part of a series of artworks in which Bronstein used the regeneration of the square as a means of exploring the political, social and visual effects of urban redevelopment projects (see also Paternoster Square 2008, Paternoster Square Cappriccio 2008 and Column with Two Figures 2008). Home to the London Stock Exchange and investment banks Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, Paternoster Square underwent major redevelopment in 2003 that included the construction of a twenty-three-metre-tall neo-classical Corinthian column and the installation of Christopher Wren’s 1669 archway, Temple Bar, which had previously been located on London’s Fleet Street. In 2009 Bronstein said of the Paternoster Square series:
It is a mythical re-telling of the construction of one of the most important Postmodern set pieces in London. This sort of stage set piazza which is really quite incredible. It’s basically like it’s been vacuum molded in this cheap re-constituted stone material to imitate whatever Baroque buildings, it is sort of Baroque, but cheapo Baroque, with bits of terracotta tiling, it’s a bit of a mess.
(Bronstein 2009, accessed 28 November 2014.)
According to Bronstein, his Paternoster Square series explores the ways in which postmodern architecture creates an image of ‘timeless dignity and adherence to traditional techniques’ despite being constructed through contemporary cost-saving building processes – for instance, the Corinthian column in Paternoster Square functions as a false front for the square’s ventilation shaft (Bronstein 2009, accessed 28 November 2014). In this way, Bronstein’s drawing invites the viewer to consider the underlying economic and social forces at work in urban redevelopment projects, particularly the hierarchies imposed by the reorganisation of public and private space. These concerns have gained greater pertinence since the work was made: in 2011 Paternoster Square, which was officially categorised as a public space in the original proposals for its development, was controversially reclassified as private property by London City Council.
Erecting of the Paternoster Square Column was first exhibited as part of Bronstein’s exhibition Paternoster Square at Herald Street Gallery, London, in 2008.
Pablo Bronstein, Spectrum Presents: An Evening with Pablo Bronstein, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2009, http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2009/pablo-bronstein, accessed 28 November 2014.
Pablo Bronstein, Postmodern Architecture in London, London 2011.
Sam Jacob, ‘Ironic Capital’, in Pablo Bronstein: A is Building B is Architecture, exhibition catalogue, Centre d’Art Genéve, Geneva 2013, pp.10–20, reproduced p.91.
Supported by Christie’s.