Materiality and Meaning in the Art of Monica Marioni

Written by: Patrick Louis Mayhew Jr.

INFANZIA - Mixed Media on Wood

Born in Italy in 1972, Monica Marioni seems to synthesize some of the most dynamic developments in modern Italian art to forge her own unique postmodern style in an exhibition on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from December 14, 2007 to January 3, 2008. (Reception Thursday, December 20, from 6 to 8 PM.)

From Pittura Metafisica, Marioni assimilated the metaphysical spaces in her abstract compositions, while her elevation of found materials, such as costume jewelry and other detritus, is reminiscent of Art Povera. There are also elements of Art Informel, the species of spontaneous abstract painting prevalent among European artists in the 1940s and '50s, as well as the international Assemblage movement in the gestural energy and tactile, object-encrusted surfaces of Marioni's mixed media works on wood and canvas.

Indeed, Marioni, who has also been compared to the American collageist and construction artist Joseph Cornell, seems the quintessential postmodernist for her ability to juggle a broad range of influences and yet create works that are possessed of a striking visual poetry, as well as highly original formal qualities. The metaphysical element in Marioni's work has much to do with the manner in which she transforms base and even banal objects by virtue of her peculiar aesthetic alchemy. Materials that less imaginative souls might regard as common trash take on a new life in her work, becoming things of beauty in context, like the twisted wire on the surface of the mixed media work on canvas that she calls "Miopia," which functions as graceful convoluted three dimensional calligraphy in juxtaposition with collaged fragments of text reminiscent of the torn posters of Arte Povera, albeit merged with a painterly vigor more comparable to Robert Rauschenberg's merger of assemblage and Abstract Expressionism.

In another mixed media work on wood entitled "Infanzia," Marioni presents objects such as toy automobiles in a more geometric hard-edge composition to create a more emblematic composition with elements of Pop. For here, too, is an array of torn and rearranged bits of paper containing printed images, text, and type fragments worthy of Kurt Schwitters's "Merz" compositions at their most elegant. In yet other works by Marioni, objects such as chains are employed for both their purely visual qualities and their symbolic resonance. There is an undeniable archeological value in these works vis a vis the meanings that can be read into the detritus of a culture; however, their hermetic personal meanings resonate even more deeply on that subliminal level where material metaphors work their haunting magic.

Willem de Kooning once used the apt term "slippery glimpses" for those elusive bits of meaning that a work of art can yield, if only for an instant, before drawing them back into the mysterious realm of pure visual sensation, where all meanings are rendered moot by the seductive power of an overriding beauty. Like Antoni Tapies, whose obsession with the "noumenal," or essential spirit of materials similarly imbued his thickly-textured surfaces with ethereal qualities that contradicted, and even transcended, their aggressively palpable materiality, Monica Marioni is an aesthetic shaman in command of transformative powers that impart to her mixed media compositions attributes far greater than the sum of their parts.

Image Credits: INFANZIA - Mixed Media on Wood, 35.4" x 53.1"

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