‘Ladder to the Moon’ is the title of a Georgia O’Keefe painting from 1958 held in the Whitney Museum collection. It has been regarded as an abstract painting even though there is absolutely nothing abstract about it. A handmade wooden ladder lies suspended against a turquoise sky, stretching towards a half moon. In the background, just about noticeable, lies the landscape of Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico, and its Pedernal Mountains. The painting is very evocative, essential, primitive – almost mystical. It is said that in Pueblo culture, which O’Keefe studied in depth, the moon symbolises the link between the Pueblo and the ancestral cosmic forces. It’s a powerful and ambitious vision. In a way, it symbolises the reaching towards something and the tool with which to do it. ‘Ladder to the Moon’ is also the title of a new exhibition at Monitor, an all-female show following the 2019 Rome show ‘If it is Untouchable it is not beautiful’. Lula Broglio, Marta Roberti, Giulia Mangoni and Eugénia Mussa are the protagonists of this new group exhibition.
A greyhound in a blue coat crosses the deserted streets of central Turin with muffled footsteps, as the artist goes on one of her nightly walks. The dog walks alone, without an owner, but is sure-footed and confident to the point that it does not appear lost, but seems like some kind of epiphany, or a mysterious and magical apparition. Lula Broglio’s (b. 1993, Sanremo, Italy) Voom Voom opens the show with its surreal atmosphere, bright colours and the transference of a city which one starts to explore without belonging to it, and in which one feels “like in a building from the 1950s, with great, square glass chandeliers which you are afraid will fall on your head when you walk below them […] those buildings with elaborate entrances, welcoming and silent with that dusty, threadbare fitted-carpeting, which somehow has managed to maintain a bright and joyful colour” (Broglio, ATPDiary, 2020).
In the other room, small, brilliant cameos by Eugénia Mussa (b. 1978, Maputo, Mozambique) provide a counterpoint to Broglio’s work. Mussa, originally from Mozambique and based in Lisbon, uses images from amateur films of varying provenance and periods – families in a pool, women at a parade, cheerleaders, and golf players – transforming them into scenes of gratifying tranquillity through her use of luminous colours. These bright colours – which were fleetingly seen by the artist as a young child on TV or in magazines – contrasted with the greyness of life in a country tormented by war, symbolising the only means of communication with normality.
In the last seven years, Marta Roberti (b. 1977, Brescia, Italy) has travelled frequently to East Asia, residing principally in Taiwan. In her interviews, the artist often recalls having left the places of her childhood early on. Its landscapes and nature often find their way into her work, woven into an evocative Taiwanese atmosphere. Roberti probes the relationship between West and East, and in particular the way in which “Western identity is comprised of that which it believes is separate from itself: animals, nature – all that it deems exotic” (Roberti). In ‘Ladder to the Moon’, Roberti’s large drawings – her favourite medium – are on display. They feature female nudes in poses associated with yogic meditations and asanas, and inspired by the animal kingdom, which instigates this type of meditation in its pursuit of nirvana.
Italo-Brazilian Giulia Mangoni (b. 1991, Isola del Liri, Italy) has returned to her hometown after a decade in Brazil, picking up on the bonds created “with stories and rural, feudal and post-industrial mythologies, using representative tools as a way to metabolise and negotiate these layered influences” (Mangoni). Here, her works reclaim ancient local iconographies through decorative statues realised by an artisan from the small town of Sora with whom the artist worked closely. The almost primitive images, that come alive in the landscape, are coupled with a certain fleshiness inherent in South American painting visible in the brushstrokes, the chiselling of the outfits and the background.
‘Ladder to the Moon’ can be interpreted as a partial, just about hinted at inquiry which is not in any way an exhaustive overview of current figurative painting nor of some of the artists who represent it. Artists belonging to different generations and from different cultural backgrounds. Artists seemingly very different in their pictorial technique and the genesis of their work, but brought together by a unique tension which spans the search for the other, from an ancestral and oneiric memory, or simply, belonging to the history of an unknown and distant past which is sublimated and made one’s own.
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