Marini’s Magic

Photo: Dario Lasagni

Marino Marini: Arcadian Nudes

Center for Italian Modern Art, NYC

A lot has been written and said about the art of Marino Marini (1901-1980). For me, his most emblematic subject: a heroic or happy male figure atop an equally confident horse always felt like a symbolic bridge between the modes of a vaunted past and the precariousness or promise of the present. Before visiting this exhibition, I was much less aware of his female nudes that were produced between 1932 and 1949, many of which are here, placed beautifully in a well designed and very inviting environment.

In contemplating these works, one must consider the state and fate of Europe between 1932 and 1949. In addition, Marini was not poor, far from it. This was how he was able to produce so much work in various media including life-sized bronzes. With all this considered, it is plain to see just how accomplished Marini was with his craft and aesthetic. There is something that I feel here, that I can only describe as truthful beauty as I walk amongst his works. And unlike the man and horse series, there is almost no whimsy present, save for the one reclining sculpture that appears to be somewhat playful. It is quite amazing, how Marini references the classics in art, while he blends in the contemporary; or how he selectively causes havoc with the surfaces of his sculptures by adding or etching in texture by smoothing out or digging into his various chosen materials. However, it is most of all, the way in which he carefully and intimately addresses his audience through his subjects -- that is the real magic of Marini.

Susanna, 1943, cast 1946-51, Bronze, 28 7/8 x 21 1/8 x 10 5/8" , 68 lb , Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn 1966, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

And there is another very odd feeling I am experiencing -- it is as if some of the sculptures are casting a mild spell on me. And that is strange, because the least representational elements of all the work is often the rather stylized facial features, while the bodies in general, are far more naturalistic and unimposing as you can see in Marini's Susanna (1943) (on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden), or Figura Seduta (Seated Figure) (1944). And this is key to his intention, the naturalism of the bodies, how familiar they look -- it is almost like one feels a personal relationship with the "person" Marini is placing in front of you. The naturalism is even more apparent in the seated figures, where tummies are not tucked in, and excess weight is, in various degrees, allowed to gather in the midsections, while the poses of many of the works are not so "posed" -- these are the strongest elements of the modern side of his thinking.

Giovinetta (Young Lady), 1938, gesso, 61 13/16 x 18 29/32 x 14 9/16", Fondazione Marino Marini - Pistoia

As I alluded to earlier, there is always that sense of a nod to the past in these works, perhaps as far back as the Greco-Roman age as evidenced in the subtle sway of the hips, the confident stare in the faces or the "eroded" surfaces and missing arms and heads. What we do not see here from the ancients is the royalty, the implied greatness of the subject in terms of collective, compiled history. In its place, what remains so clearly in these sculptures, is the presence of the subject's soul. All of the works have an unmistakable timeless essence that we all now, fortunately, can fully appreciate and enjoy, as each work breaks the plane between the day they were created to the moments of engagement today, entering our lives, forever present in our minds and memory.

Marino Marini: Arcadian Nudes runs through the 13th of June, 2020. The Center for Italian Modern Art is located at 421 Broome Street (4th floor) in New York City.

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