“La Grande Madre”: The (un)discreet charm of women power

Well if I had to tell it with a tweet, that’s what I’d post: “The works of over 130 artists from 1900 to 2015 displayed in 30 rooms of an ancient palace, lead us to an intense trip into the female world”. Luckily I have at my disposal more than that to talk about such a huge exhibition, “La Grande Madre” [The Great Mother] held at Palazzo Reale, in Milan, organized by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and curated by its artistic director, Massimiliano Gioni. Designed during Expo 2015 in Milan, it offers a deeply articulated declination of the theme “Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life”, devising a spectacular journey through the female fertility represented in the history of art and visual culture. The mother figure (and motherhood) is an archetype of nutrition, and it’s seen here through gender relations, sex and other relevant themes, which open a discussion and dialogue with representations other than art, such as advertising and nationalist and populist manifestos.


Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

Lennart Nilsson, “A Child is Born” (1965), photoprints; Keith Edmier, “Beverly Edmier, 1967″ (1998)

Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

From left to right: Martha Rosler, “Semiotics of the Kitchen” (1975), video B/W; Joan Jonas “Mirror Check” (1970), film B/Wtransferred on DVD; Yoko Ono “Freedom” (1970), video, color

Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

Ida Applebrog, “Monnalisa” (2009) installation of drawings; Yayoi Kusama, “Phallic Girl” (1967) mixed tecniques, mannequin


I must note with pleasure that in “La Grande Madre” nothing is left to chance. The location in an ancient palace with antique furnishing creates a “Dollhouse” effect, and the whole setting recalls Ibsen’s atmospheres while putting on stage such strong and even shocking female representations and artworks. The considerable weight of research that such an exhibition implies is resumed in a guide of 70 written pages, distributed on site for free: history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, politics, anthropology… what else? There’s so much to explore in this “She-universe” that you often need a guide, a help, an instrument to orient yourself in such a vast horizon. But it’s never too much. The depth of the matter flows easily both following the chronological clear line and diving into visions and emotional suggestions.


Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

Marlene Dumas, “Pregnant Image” (1988-1990), oil on canvas; Lee Lozano, “No title”, oil on canvas (1962); Alina Szapocznikow, “Popiersie bez glowy” (1968), scuplture

Installation view of "Amazing Grace", by Nari Ward (1993)

Nari Ward, “Amazing Grace”(1993), installation

Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

Pippilotti Rist, “Mother, Son & the Holy Milanese Garden” (2002-20015), video installation; Kiki Smith, “Mother/Child” (1993), sculpture; Nancy Spero, “Sheela-Na-Gig at Home” (1996), installation of paper and cloths


Starting with primitive and archaic divinities, mute films of the early 20th century and the fabulous outcomes of the Avant-garde movements (Futurism, Dadaism and Surrealism), the walk through the halls bring us progressively into the building of a new female iconology. Room by room the artworks (and documents) tell us about female power – suffragette, feminism, abortion and freedom in procreation – acquiring step by step solemnity and enriching the archetype of femininity. The selection of the works on show is really impressive: a sort of crescendo that aims to put in discussion a certain idea of mother and motherhood. Stunning, irreverent and even blasphemous, the works of those artists aim to scratch the surface and dig into hidden prospective and reflections. Photos, videos, paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations: all media are involved and become the field of strong expression. It’s impossible to mention all the artists present, but the collection that has been put together here is certainly brave and enterprising.


Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

Niki de Saint Phalle, “Model till HON” (1966), sculpture; Rineke Dijkstra, triptich from the serie “New Mother” (1994), Cprint; Judy Chicago, “In the beginning” (1982), Matita Prismacolor on paper

Exhibition view, "La Grande Madre", Palazzo Reale, Milan

Jeff Koons, “Balloon Venus (Red)” (2008-2012)


Maybe you need to know that Massimiliano Gioni worked on this exhibition while living the paternity experience for the first time, together with the cooperation of some ladies at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi: from Beatrice Trussardi (president) to Roberta Tenconi and Micola Brambilla (curator and curatorial assistant). And this is not just by chance, I guess.
The visit requires not less than two hours to immerse in this astonishing immaginario, still it leaves the audience with a deep mark and sometimes breathless.

“La Grande Madre” [The Great Mother] presented by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi is on show at Palazzo Reale, Milan through November 15, 2015


Camille Henrot, “Grosse Fatigue” (2013), video

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by Antonella Gasparato
in Focus on Europe

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