For the youngest of the Memphis group, art and design come together in a polyphony of associations and combinations that redesign the relationship between things. An exhibition at the Macro in Rome tells about it (until June 20)

The first thing that strikes you when you enter Campo di Marte the retrospective on Nathalie Du Pasquier at the MACRO museum in Rome, is the forceful yet respectful way the artist has taken possession of the space. The large room designed by Odile Decq in 2010 has been revised on a human scale, by painting the ceiling black and immersing everything in the space existing from the ‘domestic’ level downward. And by everything we really mean everything: emergency exits, technical compartments, pillars – in short, all the elements that are usually seen as disturbances – become serendipitous opportunities for this tableau of the world of Du Pasquier.

The secret lies in looking at reality as if it were an inventory “from which we can take everything and transform it into another world,” the artist explains, obtaining what the curator of the show, Luca Lo Pinto, defines as an “expanded painting.” Inside this retrospective we can read the plot of an entire life, with a background as a self-taught artist free of the constraints of the academic world, formed by travels and encounters. Like the one with Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group, where she was the youngest of the founders in 1981, working in this context until the official disbanding in 1986, when she decided to focus almost exclusively on painting. What remains of the experience of the young designer – shown together with the others in the photograph on a Ring bed that set the identity of Memphis in the imaginary of the design world – is an approach that has always been a part of her.

The typical project orientation of design can be perceived, for the most part, in the way she interacts with the exhibition space, which she has absolutely overwhelmed. Nathalie is an original, both in art and in design,” says Lo Pinto, who has already curated two earlier exhibitions by the artist in Vienna and Brussels. It becomes impossible to talk about paintings, objects, structures, exhibit design, and it becomes indispensable to resort to terms like Gesamtkunstwerk and polyphony, though the work never even slightly veers into the know-it-all hypertrophy typical of modernist ideologies. In other words, here the entire exhibition is a work, and Du Pasquier manages to “make even a monumental room, such as that of the museum, into an intimate space.

Campo di Marte’ is an imaginary location where reality is guided by fantasy. For a moment, the individual works abandon their specific identity and become raw material for a choreography in which they lend themselves to continual associations and juxtapositions,” Lo Pinto explains. There are no seams in the panoply of vases designed for Bitossi, the oil paintings whose subjects are objects, the drawings that delve into inner demons, the tiles for Mutina or the abstract sculptures in wood that emerge from the two-dimensional plane of the walls to play with the space, casting shadows. Everything is rendered into what the artist herself calls a “silent symphony,” where the presence of the works is in balance with the void, with the white pages of the walls and the black of absence, because a rest in a musical score is silence whose value equals that of the notes. In this rhythm the pattern is central, decoration rediscovers the meaning it once had in time of a natural relationship between human beings and things, that of the code and the message.

The mind connects these visual motifs with the codes that have always been used in textile art – not, by chance, a central factor in the artist’s output – particularly the use of wax in African fabrics, a technique Du Pasquier encountered in her travels years ago. The tale of African textiles, in fact, is one of the best indications of a cultural crossover: created in a context of trade between Indonesia and Holland, the wax prints have their homeland in Africa, where Asian printing techniques merge with the figurative-abstract messages of peoples accustomed for centuries to speaking through signs and icons. Just as the wax prints are updated over time, enriching their codes with contemporary features, so the non-verbal and alphabetical codes of Du Pasquier mix figure and abstraction, leaving trails of meaning and thought for viewers willing to read them. From the volume of a space to the framing of what already existed inside it, her vision transforms things, and also those who know how to read the silent but very eloquent code.