Anna Maria Maiolino, Untitled, 2014, acrylic ink on paper, 17 7⁄8 × 12". From the series “Filogenéticos” (Phylogenetics).

Anna Maria Maiolino, Untitled, 2014, acrylic ink on paper, 17 7⁄8 × 12". From the series “Filogenéticos” (Phylogenetics).

Anna Maria Maiolino

This exhibition of the work of Anna Maria Maiolino, the largest retrospective ever devoted to the Italian-Brazilian artist, journeys through more than four hundred drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations dating from the 1960s to the present. Beginning with the most recent work, the show leads viewers backward in time to the origins of an extraordinary creative vision, characterized by a human intensity that is as surprising as it is irresistible.

Within this reverse-chronological progression, the artist sets up a series of different emotional zones. These groupings offer keys to the larger themes of Maiolino’s practice, which are personal and social at once. Among them are a vital dialectic between physicality and intimacy, material becoming and spiritual suspension; an intercultural perspective that has biographical roots (the artist was born in Italy in 1942 and emigrated with her family to Brazil in 1960, before spending 1968 to 1971 in New York); and a complex and fertile dialogue between the female and male worlds that traverses, like an invisible thread, her reflections on life as it is translated into images.

The first piece in the show is emblematic of her work: a new, monumental installation in unfired clay from the series “Terra modelada” (Modeled Earth), 1994–, created on-site for this occasion. For Maiolino, the direct manipulation of clay signifies physicality breaking free from all conventions and working procedures. The installation consists of two parts: A pile of large clay coils rests on a humble wooden pallet in the center of the room, while a multitude of irregularly shaped, palm-size sculptural elements span the walls along a wire mesh. This “score” of solid masses and voids conjures other binaries such as culture and nature, negative and positive, male and female, oppression and freedom, death and regeneration—all tuned into the powerful declaration of life at the center of the room.

In a deliberate counterpoint, viewers next encounter the subtle poetry of the series “Indícios” (Traces), 2000. While composed of threads sewn onto paper, these works are not decorative embroideries, but rather evidence of a daily, repeated gesture. They are exhibited so they can be viewed from both sides. The path of the needle from one side of the surface to the other demarcates the inevitable passage of time in both an existential and a historical sense, charting a voyage through a map of emotions. This emotional intensity continues in the series of drawings “Filogenéticos” (Phylogenetics), 2014–, a cycle consisting of amoeba-like acrylic ink compositions that could be described as feelings viewed under the microscope. But the pulsating heart of Maiolino’s concrete imagination lies in the largest gallery space, with a suite of sculptures whose monochrome surfaces are tempered by tonal variations provided by hollows in their material. In the series of molded cement sculptures “Grandes Ausentes” (Large Absences), 1997–2006, these voids serve as a concentration of energy in which life collects and regenerates.

The central idea in Maiolino’s work—the potential that exists within human interaction—is underscored in the exhibition’s title, “O amor se faz revolucionário” (Love Becoming Revolutionary). Far from a simplistic slogan, it represents the distillation of an entire life translated into a declaration of real possibility, reflected in a material that exerts an active physical presence. Political and social engagement, the struggle for freedom from censorship, and the confrontation and communication between genders all merge together in a great flow of energy. Maiolino seems to suggest that a gesture or a point of contact is enough to regenerate the world at any given moment.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.