At the heart of the Lower East Side blooms the Orchard Street art district with colorful vivacity. More galleries are moving into and the street breathes with fresh vegetation and renewed creativity. It’s now an area where healthy pedestrians outnumber road traffic, street art abounds, and storefronts in primary colors invite to observe the action inside.
Art galleries and late dinner was our after work choice last Wednesday so we showed up at Artifact Gallery opening reception of the latest Manuella Muerner Marioni’s solo exhibition in the city. She had just arrived from an exhibition at the Museo Dell’Energia in Milan, where she had to fly immediately after participating in ART Expo New York. The art market can be a demanding partner.
The Swiss artist had on display some of her neo-expressionist paintings and two voluptuous sculptures of a modernist overtone. The paintings portray the sculptures, but they are markedly different. Her seemingly wild brushwork of strident colors is slightly figurative but profoundly abstract and charged with controversy and angst. Paintings such as Brainstorming (2011) are rough and violently emotional. The use, however, of saturated colors and figurative simplifications reminds of quieter neo-expressionist masters like Norris Embry or Peter Robert Keil; and reflects a tendency towards a kind of Fauvism that is wild and balanced at a time. Muerner Maroni reinterprets her own sculptural creations in two dimensions by negating them. Black edges and vertices become white, the surroundings fall into a dark negative black that contradicts the invariably white gallery spaces, and the simplicity of the sculptural forms gives way to chaotic bursts of abstract expressionism. “Art is the creation of opposites” declares the author, and those contradictions can be found in the paintings themselves. There is a clear interest in expressing volume and perspective on the female figures while faces are painted flat like the CDs that record those conceptual efforts that Muerner Maroni rejects in favor of the naked expression.
The artist mingled around and granted a few words to most of the attendees dressed with one of her own creations, while a poet declaimed around the room between laughs and toasts. The most interesting pieces were actually among the attendees: two feminine figures meticulously covered by mirror glass mosaics.
To understand the genesis of these sculptures one must go back to the formative period of Marioni’s career, in particular those seven years she spent collaborating with her friend and mentor Niki de Saint Phalle. Most famous for her public sculptures, Saint Phalle had become captivated by the Barcelona of Antoni Gaudí since the late 50s. The irregularity of the individual forms that preserve larger symmetries, the explosive colors and the whimsical organic ornamentations. Saint Phalle passed her sense of Gaudí to Marioni, however, the single feature that Saint Phalle didn’t adopt from Gaudi’s sculpture has become the one that Marioni puts at the center of her creation: the mosaic.
These modern Paleolithic Venuses, in their essential fertility give back a fragmented image of yourself for you to realize and instinctively reconstruct. They are generous in not standing alone as the sole center of attention but giving prominence to environment and beholder as well. They change while you move and the lights go down progressively in the late afternoon at Orchard Street.
– Manuel Pardo