Beverly Edmier, 1967, a sculpture by Keith Edmier, is one of many works of art featured in La Grande Madre (The Great Mother), an exhibition on the subject of motherhood currently showing at Palazzo Reale, in Milan, Italy. Photo: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi & Petzel Gallery
A 1896 film of a woman plucking babies from a cabbage patch marks a whimsical start to a Milan exhibition that examines artistic representations of motherhood, but the mood turns more sinister as the show moves into the 20th century.
La Grande Madre (The Great Mother) recounts a turbulent period in the history of women through more than 400 paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures, short films, and artefacts, including a flyer advertising the first abortion clinic.
Also featured are a model of a full-body torture machine based on a description written by Franz Kafka in 1914, and Jeff Koons’s voluptuous red sculpture Balloon Venus.
In Amazing Grace by Jamaican artist Nari Ward, 280 empty prams found on the street are arranged around a pathway of flattened fire hoses in a gloomy room, accompanied by a gospel rendition of the eponymous hymn.
Curator Massimiliano Gioni, whose partner gave birth on Aug 22, jokes at a news conference that the show might have been “sweeter” if his son had arrived before the project was finished.
The exhibition, which opened Aug 26 at Milan’s Palazzo Reale, traces a period in which “darker and more irrational and instinctive facets” began to emerge, the venue’s director Domenico Piraina said.
A photograph of Sigmund Freud with his mother Amalia points to the role the father of psychoanalysis plays, with several of the artists presented offering critical interpretations of his theories about the human psyche.
A 1974 photograph of US artist Lynda Benglis posing naked with a model of a phallus is described in the catalogue as a “candid taunt to Freudian theory” that “assigns women a fixed psychological identity based on anatomical distinction”.
The fight for women’s suffrage is commemorated with a brooch calling for “Votes for Our Mothers” and a newspaper photograph of a suffragette prisoner on hunger strike being force-fed.
“This exhibition is about the regenerative power of the mother, but also about the power denied women,” says Beatrice Trussardi, president of the Nicola Trussardi Foundation, a non-profit cultural organisation that co-produced the show.
The exhibition is one of thousands of events coinciding with the 2015 Expo World Fair. – Reuters/Isla Binnie
La Grande Madre (The Great Mother) runs until Nov 15 at Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy. For information on opening hours and admission fees, visit fondazionenicolatrussardi.com