When you hear the word palazzo
A review of the May 2018 exhibition, To Leave Earth, at the Palazzina Liberty, Bologna, Italy including work by two Art Shape Mammoth painters, Maureen O'Leary and Samantha Robinson.
When you hear the word «palazzo» (palace in English), what comes to mind? Noble families? Balls? Carriages? And what about outer space? How can the concept of space be associated with an old Italian palace? In the 1960s, amateur astronomers created a small solar-stellar observatory in the Palazzina Liberty of Bologna, Italy and in May of 2018 four American artists from the Wayfarers collective in Brooklyn, New York were hosted by the Italian collective Antonello Ghezzi. Two of these artists, the painters Maureen O'Leary and Samantha Robinson, are represented by Art Shape Mammoth. The artists presented an interpretation of the concept of escape from Earth.
"To Leave Earth" was installed at the Palazzina Liberty, Bologna, Italy, the observatory is shown here the night of the opening.
Untitled by Maureen O'Leary, installation view.
For Cynthia by Samantha Robinson, installation view
“To Leave Earth,” was a dialogue between contemporary artists and the old palazzo, it was a visual reflection on a journey into the mysterious universe by the artists O'Leary and Robinson who were joined by Kate Kosek and Macon Reed. Each of the four artists explored the theme of outer space through her characteristic manner, via paintings, installations and video art.
The two paintings by Maureen O’Leary reflected on communication between surface and cosmos. The first artwork with thousand year-old pines was placed in the very center of the old palazzo, like its heart. This work displays an almost life-size rendition of giant Californian redwood pine trees in saturated lurid colors. Expressive brush strokes, stretching pines with voluminous leaves represent the deep-rooted history and generate energy flows of nature itself.
Maureen O'Leary, 2018, Untitled (California redwoods), oil on linen triptych, 30 x 90 inches
The second painting (below) is a logical continuation of the first work. A night forest with the sparkling radio tower above it represents the connections between our Earth and a mysterious and unknown space. In this work, the glowing radio tower dissolves into the night sky as if it has become a part of an infinite galaxy.
Maureen O'Leary (left) with writer Alexandra Sokolova next to O'Leary's painting installed
Reflections by artist Kate Kosek about space turned into an immersive installation on the terrace of the palace. This installation is different from her prior practice of working in two-dimensional formats. The piece was inspired by NASA’s space fabric and Kosek created this multi-paneled work from cotton twine and digitally printed plexiglas. Called “Fade Place,” it is a day alternative to a planetarium experience, which creates a link between the sun and the viewers by allowing the colors of sunshine and the installation to be cast upon themselves. At the same time the 100 pound outdoor installation recalls satellite solar battery panels and guides viewers to imagine and to explore what exists in and beyond the natural world.
Wayfarers artist Kate Kosek's, Fade Place, installed at the Palazzina Liberty, Bologna, Italy, 2018.
Samantha Robinson’s five silkscreens hung in front of the palace's windows and made a reference to the famous archways and porticos of historical Bologna. The shape of the artwork recalled sails and flags, an allegory of the voyages between new and old worlds. When the sun highlighted the texture of the screens, a dreamy transparency of these silkscreens turned the artworks into artistic lenses or a portal between the material world and unlimited space.
For Cynh by Art Shape Mammoth artist Samantha Robinson installed in the Palazzina Liberty
Macon Reed transformed the beautiful spiral staircase of Palazzina Liberty into a hand-made solar system. Paintings and a video installation by her represented human history, and created communication across time and formed a connection with the history of Palazzo. Starting from the first painting at the ground floor step by step the viewer became closer to leaving Earth.
Installation of painting by Macon Reed in the Palazzina Liberty
All these artists involved the audience to participate in a dialogue between the nature of the old Italian Palazzo and the contemporary artworks and also invited viewers into the journey to discover the endless space and at the end, To Leave Earth.
Alexandra Sokolova is an emerging art critic in the Innovation and Organization of Culture and the Arts program at the University of Bologna, Italy. She is based in Bologna.
Additional documentation of this exhibition has been produced by the Confederazione Nazionale dell'Artigianato e della Piccoal e Media Impressa (CNA), Bologna (below).