Lehmann Maupin presents an exhibition of recent paintings and drawings by Margherita Manzelli. The Milan-based artist is known for her portraits of fictional women, which emote a deep psychological tension.
Manzelli has played an integral role in the reinvigoration of figurative painting, though she exhibits infrequently and does not produce her time-consuming paintings in great volume. Bluebird is her first exhibition at the gallery.
The women Manzelli paints are not self-portraits, but instead seem to echo a kind of reflection of the artist. The subjects’ emotional depth and individuality distinguish each figure, even as they simultaneously seem to fulfill purely archetypal roles. The charged psychological nature of this work draws from common tropes of idealized femininity—isolation, self-possession, and melancholy—and allows the paintings to serve as forms for contemporary issues. The characters are entirely borne of Manzelli’s imagination, their backgrounds contrived as small habitats that may spark recognition for the viewer, despite their nonexistence beyond the painting.
The expert and confident draftsmanship exhibited in Manzelli’s drawings is doubly offset by the fragility of these compositions. Their sparse execution, with the figures themselves only partially articulated, only emphasizes the potency of each figure. Colors, patterns, and textures are judiciously applied, though these elements feel secondary to the mood that radiates from every physical feature of each subject. There is a strong element of performance in Manzelli’s work, and a sense of display in the meticulous rendering of clothing, posture, and expression. The people Manzelli paints are aware that they are being watched, and their self-presentation feels as intentional as the artist’s own conceptualization of them.
Manzelli’s work eludes classification beyond its more obvious figurative representation of women. Her characters are both idealized as skinny, unthreatening ingénues, but are also pushed to the point of the preposterous. They are not aspirational creatures, but rather cautionary, and empathetic as well. The care put into the paintings is palpable, with Manzelli rendering each skillfully in oil paint, one painstaking layer at a time. The effect is otherworldly, though these women, the viewer is reminded, could also be human.
About the artist
Margherita Manzelli (b. 1968, Ravenna, Italy; lives and works in Milan) has had solo exhibitions of her work organized at Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia (2010); the Irish Museum of Modern Art; Dublin (2004); and the Art Institute of Chicago (2004). Her work has been included in significant group shows and biennales including Portrait of the Artist as a Young (Wo) Man, Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli (2014); Deep Feelings, Kunsthalle Krems, Krems (2013); the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale, Thessaloniki (2011); Seeing Is a Kind of Thinking: A Jim Nutt Companion, MCA, Chicago (2011); mémoires du futur – la collection Olbricht, La Maison Rouge, Paris (2011); Italics: Italian art between tradition and revolution,1968-2008, MCA, Chicago (2009), and Palazzo Grassi, Venice (2008); Hammer Contemporary Collection: Part II, Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2007); Rauschenberg to Murakami, 1964-2003, Museo Correr, 50th Venice Biennale (2003); XXV Biennial of Sao Paolo, Sao Paolo (2002); Form follows Fiction, Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2001); New to the Modern: Recent Acquisitions from the Department of Drawings, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2001); Studio International, Hydra Workshop, Hydra (2001); Painting at the Edge of the World, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2001); Fatto in Italia, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; ICA, London (1997); and Tradition & Innovation. Italian Art since 1945, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (1995). Her work is held in public and private collections, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Torino, Italy; Art Institute of Chicago, Collezione Maramotti; Reggio Emilia, Italy, Hammer Contemporary Collection, Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Collection, Torino, Italy, Van Tuyckom – Taets Collection, Brussels, Belgium, and The Napoleone Collection, London.