Anna Maria Maiolino opens anthological exhibition at Instituto Tomie Ohtake

Individual features works on women's conditions, Latin American traumas and the power of materiality and simple gestures

Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
interlives, from the series Photopoemation, 1981 by Anna Maria Maiolino

“From a plastic point of view, Anna basically works with the idea of dot and line. The line expands, becomes the plot, potentially the map, or accumulates and rolls until it becomes a tangle or a topology. You can change the language or material, but in terms of construction, these elements are always very clear. This also helps so that works from such different moments and languages coexist well together. That's why we also thought of the idea of a spiral to build the exhibition: the works change a lot, but they have several fundamentals that are recurrent”, explains the curator Paulo Miyada responsible for idealizing the exhibition Anna Maria Maiolino – psssiiiuuu…, which opens tomorrow, May 7th, at Instituto Tomie Ohtake

The artist's biggest exhibition in Brazil, the individual one takes the form of an anthology, bringing together around 300 works that reveal different moments, reflections and intentions of Maiolino's “life-work”, as the artist herself defines it. The name of the individual already brings suggestions: shhh… it is a common figure of speech, with minor alterations, in different languages and can mean a “whistle, call, flirtation, request for silence, secret or signal”. It is an onomatopoeia that expresses multiplicity and non-territoriality – two common characteristics in the work of the artist who was born in Italy and went to Rio de Janeiro fleeing the war, and who also lived in New York and Buenos Aires. 

Curated by Paulo Miyada, the solo show is made up of paintings, drawings, woodcuts, sculptures, photographs, films, videos, audio pieces and installations that feature physical and mental maps of her life as a female artist; expressions of Latin American traumas; and, the simplicity and poetry of atavistic forms and gestures. It is conceived as a spiral where techniques, languages and themes appear and disappear over the decades. To facilitate a broader understanding of the issues addressed by the artist, it was divided into three chapters:  

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Anna, 1967, by Anna Maria Maiolino


In the first room, the public will be able to check out a set of more bibliographical and intimate works, directly linked to the condition of a female artist who is also a daughter mother, citizen, lover, friend, writer and immigrant. The first works are those of the series Mental maps, where the artist creates a constructivist cartography of her life, indicating the main events and feelings: war; hunger; South America; joy, friends, Rubens (Rubens Gerchman was her first husband), work, children, New York, separation, loneliness, poetry, etc. 

Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
Chapter I, from the series Mental maps, 1971, Anna Maria Maiolino

Maiolino mapped her physical and psychic displacements throughout her life, pointing to issues of the feminine universe in an intimate and political way; delicate and radical. And this gesture is quite clear in this core of works that revolve around the idea of territory and identity. It is about a segmented woman (not by chance, this is the name of one of the sculptures in the room) who can be one or many – who desires and is desired, who cares, who silences and screams, who disappears and emerges again. with all the power and vitality that is natural to him and transforms artistic production into something almost vital to survive.

“In 1968, Rubens Gerchman, her then husband, won an award and went to New York. Anna went along with her two young children and that was the most strangling moment for her production and her recognition as an artist. Resources were small and they had no support network. That is: she was fully responsible for the housework and still needed to work as a designer to help keep the children's costs. She couldn't produce. At that moment, the Hélio Oiticica tells her to 'do what you can'. So she started drawing on these small papers while traveling on the bus”, reveals the curator in front of the series of drawings called between breaks. “Anna does not expose a narcissistic self, but a relational self in these multiple roles that she accumulated throughout her life”, he adds. 

Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
Series between breaksby Anna Maria Maiolino
Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
Series between breaks, Anna Maria Maiolino

An important work is the poem Secret Poem, from the series Mental maps, made in 1971 – the artist censors herself by crossing out all the words in the poem. “There was a double resistance here: on the one hand, there was the censorship of the free expression of the moment; on the other, the art system itself, judging female themes as something minor, obvious and banal – it was a way of disqualifying the work. Despite this, she never gave up putting her life in the foreground. Deep down, the attitude is: life matters and it is integral to the work”, explains Miyada. 

Por um fio, da série Fotopoemação, 1976, Anna Maria Maiolino
By a thread, from the series Photopoemation, 1976, Anna Maria Maiolino

In this section, it is possible to highlight some iconic works such as by a thread, from the series Photopoemations, in which the artist portrays herself connected, by a thread, to her daughter and mother; and performance record interlives – she distributed eggs along the street of her studio in Rio de Janeiro, creating a kind of minefield, and walked among them combining the ideas of risk and care. 

The egg, by the way, is one of the constants in Anna's work. Miyada explains: “The egg is a size element because it accumulates at least three roles. First, the egg is a point. Afterwards, he is a symbol of the birth, fertility, generation of life – something fundamental to her existence and that of many women. And finally, the egg is an exceptional shape, it is one of the simplest and first gestures of its kind. We are not dealing with the simple form, by logical elaboration, as square geometry is. The square is simple because it is formed by an equation of two points, but it is completely complex in every other way. The egg is the opposite: it is simple as a relationship between matter, growth and the forces around it. It's the simple shapes and forces that make up pebbles, planets and body shapes that matter. And the egg is the archetype of all of that.”

Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
Schhiiii…, 1967, Anna Maria Maiolino

It is also worth checking out works such as Body/Landscape, also from the series Photopoemations, where Anna investigates and photographs her own wrinkles and marks, seeing them as records of a landscape or a map of the passage of time and the experience of aging; and the installation Here there, first created in 1994 and reassembled at Documenta in Kassel. 

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The Hero, by Anna Maria Maiolono

No, no, no

The second space brings together works linked to macropolitics. These are works that denounce and suggest discussions about totalitarianism, censorship, repression, inequality, hunger and misery – themes that are very present throughout Latin America, especially during dictatorial regimes, but not only. The biggest highlight is its latest install: Love becomes revolutionary, which stems from a desire to honor the Mothers of May – women who lost their children during the Argentine military dictatorship and organized to protest in front of the Casa Rosada with the names of their children embroidered on headscarves. Anna sculpted faces in ceramics and arranged them on the walls of a small room where white fabrics can be seen hanging from the ceiling. “Here are also maps of traumas, cuts, escapes and imprisonment”, emphasizes Miyada.  

Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
Rice and beansby Anna Maria Maiolino
Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
SOS on the Tropic of Capricorn, from the Mental Maps series, 1974, Anna Maria Maiolino

Another unmissable work is the legendary Rice and beans, created in 1979, when a group of artists managed a space at the French Alliance, in Botafogo. Anna comments on the difficulty those artists had in working together because they had already been in AI 5 for ten years and had been in the military for 15 years. It was so much time of self-censorship and paranoia that they were not used to talking, talking, negotiating basic things. Furthermore, the art market and institutions were dismantled.

The result? They were totally precarious, without paying rent and… starving. She sets up this installation for the first time in response to this: on the central table, she places earthenware dishes with plates of rice and beans that grow and, on the side, she sets up other tables where she serves rice and beans. The table space is, it is worth remembering, repairing both traumas: it fills the belly and is the best place to establish a conversation. “We are used to an idea of solidarity where you donate what little you have left. I think Anna, throughout her life, has been closer to a more radical and revolutionary version of solidarity, which is sharing hunger. You don't have enough and neither do others. So let's not have it together. Because not being together is better than not being together in a petty and segregated way”, points out the curator.

The hero, from 1966, brings the image of the Latin American dictator whose face turns into a skull, indicating the death that surrounds him, and exaggeratedly decorated – a way of pointing to corruption, since the excess of medals probably has nothing to do with merit, and yes vanity; it is not a recognition, but a demonstration of power. while in the series walking and in-moto she creates a kind of seismograph that retrieves news about militia executions, violence inside prisons and femicide in Brazil. 

This area also houses works that were in the exhibition. Slowly, which Maiolino produced in 1978 at the Petit Galerie, in Rio de Janeiro. Among the works is Solitaire or Patience, a solitaire game without a few cards that suggests to the public the impossibility of historical reparation in the face of the years of dictatorship, both due to the lack of collective will and the “cards” that were lost and cannot be replaced.

Sete Segmentos, 2004, Anna Maria Maiolino
Seven Segments, 2004, Anna Maria Maiolino
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Entre Si, from the series Hilomorfos, Anna Maria Maiolino

Material Actions 

Last but not least, the third room is a presentation of old and recent works where matter and gesture are taken as a starting point, uniting artistic production and everyday actions to the idea of the birth of humanity. Pressing, shaping, cutting, grabbing, dripping and rolling are some of the basic actions Maiolino employs while working with clay, paint, glass, concrete and other materials, resulting in a visual and sculptural practice strongly anchored in the scale of the body. “To move the clay, touch it and leave your mark – these are very atavistic gestures. Before the human being was truly human, from an evolutionary point of view, he was already in contact with these actions. It really is very primal”, explains the curator. “When you see this work being prepared, the most present image is of a kitchen: everyone stirring, squeezing, joining, telling stories or fighting. It is a collective experience of simple gestures”, he adds. Do not miss the works of the series From Earth – Poetic Erranics, a kind of collection of different clay topographies; and, the set of amorphous cast metal sculptures Each other, from the series Hylomorphs – Hylomorphy is an Aristotelian theory that everything only exists through the encounter of action with matter; of the gesture with the substance; of movement with consistency.

It becomes even more obvious here how Anna's job is, in fact, to spiral. The linear time conceived by the West is broken (or rather, twisted); languages intersect; and, the themes oscillate between protagonists and supporting characters, but are always present. 

Anna Maria Maiolino_Tomie Ohtake
Untitled, from the series Da Terra – Errânicas Poéticas, 2018, Anna Maria Maiolino
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Untitled, from the series Cobrinhas, 2018, Anna Maria Maiolino


Anna Maria Maiolino – psssiiiuuu…

Location: Instituto Tomie Ohtake

Address: Av. Faria Lima, 201 – Sao Paulo

Date: from May 7th to July 24th, 2022

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, from 11:00 to 20:00

Admission: free

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