Isabelle Cornaro’s “Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires” poses a question: How to translate a seventeenth century painting into a contemporary sculpture? Cornaro takes Nicolas Poussin’s Paysage avec Hercule et Cacus, c. 1658, as a starting point, fashioning a landscape of kitsch. In Cornaro’s rendition, large monolithic black blocks serve as plinths to assemble a series of objects: jewelry, rustic sculpture, lush fabric, and funerary urns, all arranged under a somber mood. Structurally, Paysage avec poussin, 2015, inspires a roaming encounter. Formally, we should recall earlier precedents: Brancusi’s cluttered studio at the Centre Pompidou or Richard Serra’s immense Ramble, 2014, displayed recently at the Gagosian Gallery in London. Yet unlike Brancusi and Serra, Cornaro organizes her objects to the principle of classical perspective: her plinths marshal the body and the eye.
If Cornaro’s sculpture reads as a landscape, her terrain is organized by the weight of abstraction: Her objects are flattened in their presentation—not one object, scene, or arrangement overruns or suffocates the others. As Cornaro’s title suggests, the viewer is positioned as an eyewitness, or témoins oculaires. We must ask, however, an eyewitness to what? As if her objects are displayed to communicate to the dead, Cornaro’s Paysage avec poussin emits a funerary pathos. We also read this evocation of death in Cornaro’s precedent, where Poussin has positioned the viewer as an omnipotent spectator to the aftermath of Hercules’s triumphant murder of the monster Cacus. But in Cornaro’s translation, death is generalized: It does not to refer to a specific place or person but rather is evoked to refer to a social relation. Cornaro’s landscape is figured as a minor but total necropolis.