Critics’ Picks

Maria Lai, Libro cucito (Sewn Book) [detail], 2009, velvet and thread, 11 x 12 x 2".


Maria Lai

Studio Stefania Miscetti
Via Delle Mantellate, 14
January 18–May 5

With forty works spanning the 1950s to the 2000s, Maria Lai’s exhibition examines fragments of her long and multifaceted creative path. From her native land, Sardinia, Lai had an unimpeded view toward a horizon as vast as the sea, though as an islander, she knows that that not only is space infinite, it can also be a wall. And she courageously crossed over it, in the early 1940s, to move to Venice as a young woman to study with the sculptor Arturo Martini. The influence of sculpture is evident in the solid construction of the figures in her drawings and paintings from the 1960s, and also in her facility for manipulating different materials, such as cement, clay, and even bread. Pandemonio (Pandemonium), 1977, depicts a ferocious demon, made of bread, with which she debunks the concept of a patriarchal god by domesticating it. The artist inherited the archaic force of legends and popular traditions from her upbringing, which she recounts in performances such as Legarsi alla Montagna (To Tie Oneself to the Mountain), 1981, a collective action of epic proportions documented here in the video Legare collegare (To Tie and Connect), 1981, where the artist translates archetypes into an essential language, tying together the inhabitants, the houses, and the mountain of her native village, Ulassai, with more than sixteen miles of light-blue denim ribbons.

For Lai, art is the desire for the impossible, and it belongs to everyone. If she uses humble materials such as thread and fabric and equipment such as a loom, it is because she grasps what life has to offer, without hierarchies, in an adaptable fashion yet within a rigorous discipline. In her fabric books, including Libro cucito (Sewn Book), 1996, writing and drawing are the same thing: The artist skillfully designs mysterious short poems using a sewing machine, according to an internal rhythm that extends over the soft pages, that then become curled in a tangle of threads, where all the stories of the world converge.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.