Home Magazine Inside the "Ruins"

From 27 June 2021 to 9 January 2022, the Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana presents “Rovine” (Ruins), the first major, mid-career retrospective of art star Nicolas Party (Lausanne, 1980) ever to be displayed in a European museum.

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A laborious project “in situ” (four place-based wall pieces), Nicolas Party designed, precisely, the entire architecture of the show in Lugano. Five rooms and two gigantic godlike heads guard the portal of “Ruins”, as if we were in front of the temple of the Sun. Party’s symbolic motif of the sun/sunset - borrowed from the Swiss painter Félix Vallotton-, a cliché, albeit fascinating, fills the “landscape part” of this impressive exhibition.  

Architectural forms, large site-specific murals, seraphic polychrome sculptures, human portraits with idealized features - that reflect upon the ancient greek concept of “perfection” opposed to the modification enabled by filters on our iPhone - and hyperpigmented (sometimes done with real makeup), pastel paintings. In fact, the “Queen of pastels” in the Rococo era, Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757) has had a great influence on Party. 


Nicolas Party, Head, 2018, Acrylic and Oil on fiberglass and polystyrene foam, Iris and Adam Singer - Promised gift to the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Photo by: HV-studio, Bruxelles © Nicolas Party.


But before Party’s favorite, slow medium of pastels, there were graffiti, that are fast and temporary.  When he was seventeen, Party started with graffiti - like the ones he made on France train TGV, or on a colorful wall in Glasgow. This is where his relation to space, architectural approach, and site-specific mind-set started from. The performative aspect of spray paint, all the energy, the joy, his gang of friends, are expressed in the tactile elements of Party’s wall paintings, his hands and fingers as a “strategy”, the quick movements. Pastels and charcoals are, indeed, “physical”.

Working mostly by himself, with only a few assistants, Party creates uncanny and odd spaces with arches, intimate corners and rooms filled with groovin’ colors. The design of the space helps with the experience of the paintings’ physicality, to better perceive the recurring element of the trompe l’oeil decoration, in the marble for example. 


Nicolas Party in his studio, Photo by Axel Dupeux, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Nicolas Party.


“Ruins” contains a repertoire of sensual, languid, decaying human, gender fluid figures and flora that indicate an atmosphere of unknown and a sense of erotism and suspended time, like the fruits, in the manner of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Landscape and still life, caves and rocks, human portraits in the middle of the show: different genres for each room. Layering to transform the space and create a sort of vibrant collage, a “double landscape” - a pastel landscape with a frame of a portrait on top (like Party’s version of the blue period portrait The Celestine, 1904, by Picasso).


Nicolas Party, Sunrise, 2018, Pastel on canvas, Courtesy the artist and Xavier Hufkens, Bruxelles, Foto: Isabelle Arthuis © Nicolas Party.


The starting point for “Ruins” was the choice of the biggest, rectangular space of the museum, with high pillars, ceilings, volumes and neutral tones. Party created an ambitious cross-shaped plan, adding walls and two separate rooms on the side. In the tradition of the fresco in Italian churches, Masi Lugano was transformed into a cathedral. Enlarging the proportions of the ruins painted by Arnold Böcklin (Ruins in the moonlit landscape, 1849), Party reproduced, in black and white, the symbolistic painting on the wall, hanging the pastel Creases - which depicts a smooth torso based on Boccioni’s drawings - on top of it. Party’s intuition for the idea of the ruins came from the inseparable binomial of construction and reconstruction - present even in Ticino’s cities - nature versus humans, the romantic archetype of the ruins (typical of Böcklin) in contrast to what’s left of modernity, sometimes crumbling. The torso and the butterflies in Creases are echoing the relentless transformation of all things and the natural aging, embracing creases and wrinkles. 

Epiphanies, transfiguration, decay, attraction are concentrated in Party’s peculiar show.   


Nicolas Party, Landscape, 2020, Pastel on canvas, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by: Adam Reich © Nicolas Party


Nicolas Party, Creases, 2021,Soft pastel on pastel card and faux marble mat border, 85 x 65 cm, Fillistorf Collection, Zürich, Photo by: Adam Reich © Nicolas Party.


Nicolas Party, Portrait, 2015, Pastel on canvas, Gherardo Felloni, Photo by: Andrea Rossetti © Nicolas Party.


Cover image: Nicolas Party, Rocks, 2014, Soft pastel on canvas,The Collection of Donald Porteous, Photo by: Michael Wolchover © Nicolas Party.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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