Exhibition dedicated to Maria Lai at MAXXI in Rome unveils the unwritten

The exhibition Holding the Sun by the Hand, at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Italy, displays more than 200 works of the late Italian artist on her birth centenary.

by Sukanya Garg Published on : Dec 28, 2019

Italian artist Maria Lai was born in September 1919. On the centenary of her birth, MAXXI, National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome, Italy, organised a major retrospective of the artist, Tenendo per Mano il Sole (Holding the Sun by the Hand). Curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Luigia Lonardelli, the exhibition comprises more than 200 works on display.

Maria Lai was an artist who defied conventional modes of art, creating her own original language, fully aware as she did this, that it would be a rather long journey before her art was understood or accepted. She described her journey as, “I played with great dedication, and at a certain point they called my games art.” What she called games received much recognition over the last few years when her works were displayed as part of the Venice Biennale and Documenta 14. She was also the winner of the Chamber of Deputies Prize for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy for her work Footprints of laws. Lai gave life to words, rather than giving them meaning. The illegible script she threaded together on canvases, books, paper, fabric and other mediums, while could not be read, was infused with essence enough to be understood.

Tenendo per mano il sole, 1984-2004, thread, cloth, velvet, 33 x 63 cm, private collection | Holding the Sun by the Hand | Maria Lai | STIRworld
Tenendo per mano il sole, 1984-2004, thread, cloth, velvet, 33 x 63 cm, private collection Image Credit: Francesco Casu, courtesy of Archivio Maria Lai © Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2019

It is no surprise then, that Giovanna Melandri, President of Fondazione MAXXI, said, “We chose to focus substantial attention on feminine artistic visions. Therefore, we could not exclude a project on Maria Lai. The exhibition is a tribute to the character and to the work of a woman who has been able to unravel infinite artistic languages throughout her career, always keeping her research at the centre: representing and reinventing - gently and poetically - all the traditions and symbols of an archaic, eternal culture to speak directly and powerfully to the contemporary generations.”

La mappa di Colombo, 1983, thread, cloth, 122 x 170 cm, Collezione Fondazione Stazione dell’Arte | Holding the Sun by the Hand | Maria Lai | STIRworld
La mappa di Colombo, 1983, thread, cloth, 122 x 170 cm, Collezione Fondazione Stazione dell’Arte Image Credit: Tiziano Canu, courtesy of Fondazione Stazione dell’Arte, © Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2019

The retrospective at MAXXI focuses on what has been defined as her second period, mostly displaying works she created in the 1960s. The title of the exhibition, which translates in English as Holding the Sun by the Hand, is the first sewn fable made by the artist. Her primary interests, which included poetry, language and word, are also elements that come together to create a cosmogony of her geographies evoked by the sun; the pedagogical vocation implicit in that ‘taking by the hand’.

The exhibition includes sculptures, sewn books, public works, looms, as well as geographies which formed the most of her oeuvre. Lai saw art as an instrument and a language capable of modifying our reading of the world, an approach that derived from her background as a teacher, and which was later manifested in the sewn books and sewn fables.  The show also brings together art games created by Lai, re-readings of traditional games with which she reiterated the fundamental role of creativity in society. Play as a means of attaining self-awareness and learning how to relate to the other, an activity not to be relegated to the world of childhood, but to be cultivated in adulthood too. Her deeply held belief in the redemptive power of art, the theme of play, art as an instrument capable of bringing people together, imagining and relating.

Ciò che non so (aperto), 1984, thread, cloth, paint, 20 x 15 cm, private collection, Milano | Holding the Sun by the Hand | Maria Lai | STIRworld
Ciò che non so (aperto), 1984, thread, cloth, paint, 20 x 15 cm, private collection, Milano Image Credit: Courtesy of Nuova Galleria Morone and Archivio Maria Lai, © Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2019

Not only did Lai create a ‘monument for the living’ – Legarsi alla montagna (To Tie Oneself to the Mountain) when she was asked to create a war memorial by the municipality of Ulassai (Sardinia, Italy), threading together the village with blue ribbon that ran across houses, but her artistic interests extended beyond the traditional art. She was also involved in open-air projects, social sculptures, theatre, running workshops and other public activities.

Ciò che non so (chiuso), 1984, thread, cloth, paint, 20 x 15 cm, private collection, Milano | Holding the Sun by the Hand | Maria Lai | STIRworld
Ciò che non so (chiuso), 1984, thread, cloth, paint, 20 x 15 cm, private collection, Milano Image Credit: Courtesy of Nuova Galleria Morone and Archivio Maria Lai, © Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2019

All this and more renders Maria Lai one of the most innovative artists of her generation, one who managed to intercept and interpret at their origin specific cultural mechanisms that underlie contemporary society.

The exhibition is on display until January 12, 2020.

Comments

Comments Added Successfully!

About Author

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
1453,1397,1332,1270,1370

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

Collaborate with us

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE