Anne Poirier and Patrick Poirier

Villa Adriana, in Memory of Antinous


Not on display

Anne Poirier and Patrick Poirier born 1942, born 1942
Original title
Villa Adriana, à la mémoire d'Antinous
Plaster, muslin, porcelain, book, paper, rose petal on wooden base and slide, 35 mm, projection, black and white
Object: 203 × 1149 × 1149 mm
Presented anonymously through the Contemporary Art Society in memory of Mrs Amy Colls 1981

Display caption

The Villa Adriana is the villa of the Roman Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, near Rome. Antinous was the Emperor's favourite, who died at about the age of twenty. His appearance is known from the many portraits of him that Hadrian commissioned, and the large photograph is of one of these, now in the Louvre in Paris. The architectural model is taken from a French 'Empire' design, a centrepiece of porcelain that was made for Napoleon in 1808.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed but ‘Cantiere archeologico, omaggio ad Antinoo, febbraio 1980’ on typewritten label on underside of base Plaster of Paris, muslin, porcelain plaques, book, paper and rose petal on synthetic wood base, with projected 35mm. slide, dimensions of base approx. 45 1/4 × 45 1/4 × 8 (115 × 115 × 20)
Presented anonymously through the Contemporary Art Society in memory of Mrs Amy Colls 1981
Exh: Anne e Patrick Poirier, Galleria Ginevra Grigolo, Studio G7, Bologna, February 1980 (no catalogue); Anne et Patrick Poirier, Maison de la Culture, Chalon-sur-Saône, March–May 1981 (not listed, repr.p.40)
Lit: Interview with Dorothea von Stetten in Anne und Patrick Poirier (exh. catalogue), Kunstverein, Bonn, April–May 1978 and tour, n.p.; Anne and Patrick Poirier in French Art 1979: An English Selection (exh. catalogue), Serpentine Gallery, April–May 1979, p.9; Christian Besson, ‘Le Site d'Anne et Patrick Poirier’ in Anne et Patrick Poirier (exh. catalogue), Maison de la Culture, Chalon-sur-Saône, March–May 1981, pp.3–4; Marie Lapalus, ‘Anne et Patrick Poirier ou le Retour aux Archetypes’, op.cit., pp.5–6, repr.p.40; Anne and Patrick Poirier in G7 Studio, no.3–4, June 1981, p.13, repr.p.14; Michel Huth, ‘Les Adventuriers des Ruines perdues’, Connaissance des Arts, no.24, January 1982, pp.60–5; Anne and Patrick Poirier in ‘Statements New York 1982’ (publication accompanying series of French exhibitions in various venues in New York, 1982), p.70; Charles Turner, The Sèvres Egyptian Service 1810–12 (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982)

Shortly after the completion of this work Anne and Patrick Poirier wrote (G7 Studio, op.cit., translated for this entry by Vanessa Nicolson):

'Our work is linked to our life and our life is a series of journeys and peregrinations: from landscape to landscape, from ruins to gardens, from inhabited to uninhabited landscapes, from pilgrimages of the soul to pilgrimages of the body, from one place of exile to another. Real landscapes merge with dream ones. We rub out the tracks, we loose ourselves, we start looking again for the tracks that have cancelled our own footsteps in the dust, in the sand and in the ashes ... Nothing occurs with premeditation. There are landscapes, places that stimulate us and in which we can lose ourselves for a short time. At the beginning of the work we confront the “place” which is always an architectural place, an independent place if it consists of a garden, a city or of any other single architectural edifice. Such a place without doubt provokes us, because it touches on something in our unconscious which is not clearly definable.

'A place...prompts a series of works that we generally conclude in two parts: once at the place ... we collect plants, we write information, we photograph, we prepare casts, we draw maps of the places using our own steps and bodies as measurements: we function receptively. We know that our contact within these architectural spaces fills us with energy and sensibility and we know that such an experience gives us an accumulation of thoughts for a long time. Initially we have no plan. Thus we do not know which thoughts and which sentiments will be provoked by the place and what work shall be the outcome of the second stage - a stage to which we bring our memory in a connected way.’

Elsewhere they have compared themselves to archeologists: ‘What we do could be described as “Parallel Archeology”. It is not all scientific in nature - it is more an Archeology of the Mind than of the Past. The ruin and the archeological site have, since Freud and Jung, served as metaphors for the unconscious and for memory ... with the period of the Villa Adriana, we tried to penetrate a region other than thought, that of Platonic Archetypes, a region of pure Geometry, whiteness and blinding light, of perfect and unchangeable forms’. (The artists in the catalogue for Statements, Leading Contemporary Artists from France, op.cit.).

Since being awarded the Prix de Rome in 1967 - they stayed for four years in the Villa Medici - Anne and Patrick Poirier have collaborated on numerous architecturally-based works, frequently inspired by the ruins of classical antiquity, for example, Ostia Antica (1972), Isola Sacra (1973), Selinunte in Sicily (1974) and Nero's villa in Rome, the Domus Aurea (1975–7). While in Berlin in 1977–8 on a German Academic Exchange Scholarship (d.a.a.d.), the artists decided to visit the Villa Adriana, the ruins of Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (modern Tivoli) outside Rome; they have compared Hadrian's architectural aspirations with those of Albert Speer, the architect of the Third Reich (interview with Dorothea von Stetten, in the catalogue for the exhibition Anne und Patrick Poirier, Kunstverein, Bonn, April–May 1978, n.p.). Hadrian, who was born in ad76 and was Emperor of Rome from ad117–138, was the most pro-Hellenistic and one of the most cultivated of the Roman Emperors, and is particularly associated with architectural innovation. Late in life he created the vast and magnificent villa now known as the Villa Adriana, whose architecture and decorations, drawn from a range of cultural traditions, presented, in microcosm, his earlier travels in the ancient world. In a note in the catalogue for French Art 1979 (op.cit.), the artists wrote with regard to an earlier work, also based on the Villa Adriana, (‘A Circular Utopia’ 1978): ‘The destruction of the fabric of the Villa Adriana buildings makes even more apparent the appetite that Hadrian had all his life for the act of building.’

The projected negative which forms part of T03325, shows the head of a statue of Antinous now in the Louvre. Antinous, who was probably born between ad110–12 at Bithynium (Claudiopolis) in North-West Asia, was Hadrian's favourite. He was drowned in ad130 while accompanying the Emperor up the Nile. A number of rumours circulated about his death, including that of ritual sacrifice or suicide. Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinoöpolis in memory of Antinous, who was deified in some parts of the Empire and inspired numerous festivals and cults. As many as 100 statues of him have been recovered from the site of the Villa Adriana.

When ‘Villa Adriana’ is installed, the projected image of Antinous is a ghostly presence, overlooking a miniature imaginary architectural site. In certain circumstances, the artists have agreed that a print of the photograph on thin cloth may be substituted for it, so long as the image remains ‘ectoplasmic’ and the wall-hanging is not opaque or rigid. Whether in the form of projection or wallhanging, the image when displayed measures approximately 2 × 1 3/4 metres, so that the head dominates the work below it, which is displayed on a low plinth. When the slide is projected, the work should be seen in a darkened room. People should be able to move around the work.

According to Patrick Poirier (in conversation with the compiler, 27 April 1982), this work was assembled in the Poiriers' Paris studio and took about 1 1/2 months to make. The book attached to the base of the model is Hérodote, Thucydide, Oeuvres complètes, NRF 1964, Editions Gallimard, Paris, a work to which the artists have frequently turned in the course of their researches. They decided to include it here because of the significance of the map - it is displayed open at a map of Egypt, which they had worked from. (The oasis Ile des Bienheureux is ringed in red pencil.) Several markers relating to previous works have been left in the volume, and, to the artists, these references have become part of the book. When making the piece the Poiriers worked in a basement by the light of a single lamp. Objects in the studio which appeared within the circle of light were incorporated in the final work.

When the artists visit an ancient site, they take photographs of it and collect a variety of data, including examples of the flora. At the Villa Adriana at Tivoli there are many roses growing. The Poiriers collected a number of rose petals and attempted to work with these in various different ways, making numerous small works. In some they attempted to write on the petals with a needle, for example in a photographic work commissioned for Artforum magazine, ‘Four Fragments about Fragility’ (Artforum, xviii, February 1980, pp.75–8), which shows an enlarged petal, on which has been pricked the words ‘villa/adriana/utopie’. On the page facing this image, the same or a similar petal is reproduced, but in a shrivelled condition, so that the words are difficult to read. The petals, when they eventually dry, lose the marks pressed upon them. (The artists also rolled some of the columns incorporated in T03325 on petals so as to give them their imprints.)

Patrick Poirier told the compiler that this particular work was intended to bring together three themes, man, nature and mythology. The three porcelain plaques placed on the other side of the base from the book are of the sort normally used as commemorative plaques in Italian cemeteries (echoing the theme of Antinous' death), but instead of the usual texts the artists have had them printed by a transfer process with excerpts from a history of Hadrian and a photograph of the Sphinx at Giza taken from an old travel book.

The main body of the work is an imaginary exercise balanced somewhere between evocative small-scale mock excavation and architecture. It was made mainly from plaster casts (afterwards fragmented) taken from the original moulds for the architectural centre-piece of a famous Sèvres dinner service, ‘The Egyptian Service’ 1808 (1812, second version), though the artists also constructed one section from ready-made plaster mouldings which they broke to suggest fragments of architecture. Patrick Poirier said that it felt quite normal to them to work on such a miniature scale.

The centre-piece of the Egyptian Service is chiefly based on engravings after drawings made by Vivant Denon, when he accompanied Napoleon on the Egyptian campaign of 1798. Denon's account of the campaign was published in his illustrated Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte, pendant les Campagnes de Géneral Bonaparte (first published in 1802). The centre-piece is a hybrid based on the ancient Egyptian temples of Philae, Dendera and Edfu, the pylon and the sacred rams of the temple of Karnak at Thebes, the so-called figures of Memnon and the obelisks at Luxor. When the service was made, plaster models were created and moulds made from these. Initially the Poiriers used the original Sèvres moulds for their sculpture, afterwards making their own latex moulds.

The original centre-piece is one of the largest ever to be produced in porcelain - over 22 feet long, and composed of 17 separate pieces of biscuit porcelain. At the centre stands the temple of Philae, flanked by four obelisks. Two temples incorporating elements from those at Dendera and Edfu complete the central group. This is connected by two colonnades to two matching gateways, modelled on those at Karnak. On the outer edges, seated figures face two matching avenues of sacred rams. The hieroglyphs decorating the surfaces of the miniature temples and obelisks are grouped randomly and do not read coherently. From the available moulds, the Poiriers cast a needle or obelisk, and various columns and capitals which formed part of the side temples.

Two sets of the Egyptian service were made by Sèvres. The first, completed in 1808, was given by Napoleon to Tsar Alexander I of Russia and is now in the collection of the Ceramic Museum at Kuskovo, near Moscow. The second was offered by Napoleon to the Empress Josephine as a divorce present, but she rejected the design as too severe and returned the service to Sèvres. After Waterloo, it was presented to the 1st Duke of Wellington by Louis xviii in 1818. This second service remained in the possession of the dukes of Wellington until 1979 when it was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is now on view at Apsley House, the 1st Duke's London house.

The fragments, some fixed but some loose, are placed on gauze, reminiscent of the material used by archeologists to protect specimens. Patrick Poirier told the compiler that when the work was originally exhibited in Bologna, nothing was fixed and the original idea was to let the pieces fall into place when the work was unwrapped. The artists decided however, about a year later, to glue down most of the fragments.

Before embarking on the ‘Villa Adriana’ works the Poiriers had worked for about three years on a series of constructions based on Nero's villa, the Domus Aurea. These were all made using black materials such as charcoal. After these all-black constructions, they turned to all-white works. Whereas the ‘Domus’ series had dealt with ghosts, fragments and piecing together, the Villa Adriana works, begun in 1979, celebrate rationality, harmony, balance and an ideal world, symbolized by Hadrian's most famous building in Rome, The Pantheon, on which the Poiriers based their work ‘Villa Adriana, a Circular Utopia’ 1978–9. Other works in the series include: ‘Villa Adriana Equilibre instable’ 1979 (coll. Museum van Hedendaage Kunst, Ghent); T03325-which is the only one devoted to Antinous; and Villa Adriana ‘Théâtre Maritime’, 1978. In an interview with Michel Huth conducted in August 1981 (published in Connaissance des Arts, op.cit.), the artists said that they were then working on the last piece in the Villa Adriana series (‘Falaises de Marbre, Fragments d'une Utopie’ 1981, a tall narrow fractured staircase made of Carrara marble).

Amongst the books in the Poiriers' library, the interviewer noticed Marguerite Yourcenar's semi-fictional, semi-historical novel, Les Mémoires d'Hadrian, first published in France in 1951.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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