Critics’ Picks

Gillian Wearing, Self-Portrait as My Mother Jean Gregory, 2003, ink-jet print, 59 x 51 1/2".

Gillian Wearing, Self-Portrait as My Mother Jean Gregory, 2003, ink-jet print, 59 x 51 1/2".


“The Great Mother”

Fondazione Nicola Trussardi
Piazza Eleonora Duse, 4
August 25–November 15, 2015

For the exhibition “The Great Mother,” curator Massimiliano Gioni borrowed the title of a book by psychologist Erich Neumann—an analysis of divine female archetypes throughout history—and studied texts such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, and Carla Lonzi’s Let’s Spit on Hegel. The result, with works by 139 artists from 1900 to the present, is a multifaceted and intimate portrait of women and the maternal phase’s role in the creation of ego. The exhibition begins with a Freudian play of symbolism and analysis via Magdalena Abakanowicz’s formal renderings of large genitalia, which viewers metaphorically pass through to embark on a journey back into the womb. Brancusi’s Le nouveau-né (The New Born), 1920/2003, a bronze ovoid baby, hangs in the balance between nature and artifice.

Proceeding into archives of photos, texts, and films, Salvador Dalí’s oneiric, ancillary nudes and Remedios Varo’s mystical figures make an appearance. In this show, women make decisions about their own bodies and interpolate the personal and the political, an attitude confirmed in the work of Ana Mendieta, Annette Messager, and Carolee Schneemann. Elsewhere, women are patricidal, as in the work of Louise Bourgeois, or in the case of Sherrie Levine’s and Elaine Sturtevant’s works, they usurp man’s creative role, copying and reexamining works by historical male masters. The mother-as-matron becomes once again central, spitting on her son’s face in Ragnar Kjartansson’s performance video Me and My Mother, 2000, though love still emerges. It all concludes with Gillian Wearing’s Self-Portrait as My Mother Jean Gregory, 2003, where the artist models a mask of her mother’s face to achieve an absolute symbiosis, encouraging the viewer to respect a human being’s experience beyond the biological role.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.