Anna Maria Maiolino has produced a varied body of work: photography, drawing, sculpture, video, works on paper, and performance art. Maiolino uses her art to investigate a range of subjects from the daily rituals of the home, the repressive conditions of a dictatorship, and bodily existence. Her hand-worked corporeal sculptures allude to cycles of life and death.
Born in wartime Italy to an Italian father and an Ecuadoran mother, she spent her formative years in Venezuela from 1954 and then in Brazil from 1960. In Brazil, she attended painting and woodcut classes at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes. Later she would participate in early Brazilian art movements, that included Neo-Concretism and the New Brazilian Objectivity movement in 1967, where she worked with Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape. During this time her paintings were seen as a resistance to Brazil’s brutal military regime.
In the late 1960s, she moved with her children and husband, artist Rubens Gerchman, to New York seeking refuge from Brazil’s military dictatorship. Eclipsed by her husband’s career, she focused on caring for her children and on her day job as a textile designer. She created little artwork during this time. In 1971, she studied at Pratt University, but at the end of the year returned to Brazil with her children after she and her husband divorced. When her children were of school age, she decided she would be “a mother and artist with the same importance.”
She worked on paper, film, performance art, and interactive art. In 1989, she turned to clay. Clay is the major medium that she used in her first major U.S. museum retrospective at MOCA, Los Angeles 2017-2018. In this show were also works which contained recurrent motifs of mouths and digestive systems. Her 1967 work “Glu Glu Glu” (“Gobble, Gobble, Gobble”) portrays an open-mouthed figure. It sits at a table topped with food. A pipe runs from the table to a toilet depicted in the bottom half. Another 1967 work, again titled “Glu Glu Glu,” is a wall-mounted sculptural piece made from stuffed fabric and also contains an open mouth and digestive system. These works seem to refer to the Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 “Cannibalist Manifesto,” which mocks Brazil’s consumption and regurgitation of other cultures.
Works from her 1970-1976 series “Desenhos Objetos” (Drawing Objects) again show the recurrent motif of the mouth. Her ”Por Un Fio” (By a Thread, 1976) shows the artist sitting between her mother and her daughter, connected by segments of rope. The rope is held in their mouths, one segment between the artist and her mother and the other segment between the artist and her daughter.
In the 1990s she produced powerful sculptural work, one of which was “Estao na Mesa” (They Are on the Table, 2017). A heap of thick strands lies across the gallery floor, while tightly arranged lumps cover an entire wall. More of these strands are on top of three long rectangular tables, pushed together end to end. These sculpted pieces, made of hand-worked, unfired clay, resemble meatballs, pasta, donuts, and fecal matter, again reiterating the theme of consumption from her earlier works.
In her series “Novo Outros” (New Others, 2013) are cement slabs pocked with amoebic concavities, mounted on metal tables. They contain forms resembling pieces of fruit, fossils, and body parts. Her strongest works are her corporeal sculptures, which are white plaster coils and white curved plaster pieces, affixed to the walls. They suggest processes of petrification, alluding to the complete cycle of life. Her ink drawings were also included in this series.
In 2010, she had a thirty year exhibition of her work in London. In 2012 she participated in Documenta 13 and also won the Mercedes-Benz Prize for Visual arts for Best Contemporary Artist of the Year. In 2014, she had a solo exhibition of two of her videos.