Sean Scully – A Wound in a Dance with Love
MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna
June 22 – October 09, 2022
MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna presents A Wound in a Dance with Love, a large retrospective of Sean Scully (Dublin, 1945), an artist among the leading exponents of contemporary abstract painting, which will be visible in the Sala delle Ciminiere from June 22nd to October 9th, 2022.
The exhibition, curated by Lorenzo Balbi with Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery as the main partner, is based on the show Sean Scully: Passenger – A Retrospective, curated by Dávid Fehér and organized by the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest (October 14th – May 30th, 2021), later hosted by the Benaki Museum in Athens. It arrives in Bologna in a renewed version, specifically designed for the MAMbo. 26 years later, the artist is again the protagonist of a solo exhibition in Bologna: in 1996, it was the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, from whom the MAMbo is derived, which dedicated an exhibition to him in its premises of Villa delle Rose.
Both a wide knowledge of the works by old and contemporary masters and a singular sensibility for obtaining visual and emotional suggestions from actual reality equally converge in Scully’s art. The exhibition in Bologna, with 68 exhibited works (oil paintings, acrylics, watercolors, drawings, and a monumental sculpture), aims at highlighting the continuous dialogue between these two essential components of the artist’s work, by retracing over 50 years of creative experience. From the first figurative experiments in the ’60s and the minimalist works in the ’70s to the current work, A Wound in a Dance with Love documents the most important developments of a practice that is always consistent with its assumptions but is also capable of changing significantly over time, in relation with emotional experiences and existential evolutions, affections, and sorrows.
In the opening room two monumental paintings on aluminium face each other: What Makes Us Too (2017) and Uninsideout (2018 – 2020), works which bring together, in a well-studied contrast, several recurring elements of Scully’s works: the tripartite division, the use of stripes as opposed to orthogonal schemes and monochromatic elements, the use of “insets” and the alternation between colored areas and others in black and white.
In the central aisle of the Sala delle Ciminiere, the exhibition path starts with Fort #1 (1978), a rigorous synthesis of landscape suggestions, and the former Backcloth, painted in 1970, a year in which Scully is already determined enough to embrace abstractionism. With Backcloth the artist explores to its extreme limits the possibility to use the grid as the only composition module, with a dense set of overlaps, and trying to approach Jackson Pollock’s dripping through a fierce use of the typical schemes by Piet Mondrian. In Crossover Painting #1 (1974), visible in the same room, the compositional texture becomes more relaxed, while the chromatic texture appears more refined, in a precise counterpoint between bold colors and delicate shades.
The Sala delle Ciminiere, thanks to its massive volumes, provides the ideal location for the sculpture Opulent Ascension (2019), previously shown in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice on the occasion of the 58° Venice Art Biennale, a monumental example of the most recent transposition on a three-dimensional scale of the artist’s intuitions. It’s the artist himself who said: “I made Opulent Ascension out of Felt. Felt is a material that is PRESSED into existence, and not woven out of a line. MERET Oppenheim took a cup and saucer and covered them with animal fur, which meant they became useless. So then were they Art? A fur-covered cup and saucer have to be an Artwork, because it’s strange, and because I have been thinking about it, for decades. Is the skin of something, any creature, anything, so overwhelming, that it defines what it is? So that everything inside, becomes subservient to what is on the outside. I love this question. Because I can never answer it” (Sean Scully, New York, March 9th, 2020).
On the sides of Opulent Ascension, we find several works with a clear landscape inspiration from the series Landline, among which are those, lively and cheerful, dedicated to Scully’s second son Oisín: Oisín Green (2016) and Oisín Sea Green (2016), in addition to the tryptic Arles Nacht Vincent (2015), an homage to Vincent van Gogh and, on the background, Black Square (2020), inspired by Kazimir Malevič.
The Bather (1983), which refers to a painting by Henry Matisse, is evoked intuitively with a joyous palette and a vibrant light is visible in the side wing of the central space. With this painting, Scully starts the reconciliation between the research by Matisse himself, Piet Mondrian and Mark Rothko, who are regarded as some of the sources of inspiration for his painting.
Mariana (1991) presents the typical “insets” made up of canvases painted with contrasting motives, and physically recessed into the body of the painting, whereas Long Light (1998), already 2 belonging to the MAMbo’s Permanent Collection, is proof of the reflections on the light which introduce the next works of the cycle Wall of Light, inspired by the careful observation of the bright mutations on the walls, seen and photographed in Mexico first and then in several parts of the world: represented here by two particularly intense works, Wall of Light White Tundra (2009), a loan from the Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Torino, and Wall Light Zacatecas (2010). This section of the exhibition includes other more recent works, each of them characterized by a particular distinctive mark. Here we can see also another work that draws explicit inspiration from Vincent van Gogh – Vincent (2002), whereas Empty Heart (1987) recalls one of the most dramatic periods in the life of the artist, hit by the death of his nineteen-year-old first-born son Paul.
Finally, the last space is reserved for the most recent and significant turning point in Scully’s work, the return to figurative painting, on which the artist had briefly worked in his early days. The paintings of the series Madonna, made between 2018 and 2019, depict the artist’s wife and son as they play with sand and bring to light a topic that has always been dear to Scully, which is the mother with her child. Actually, this topic still underlies the same “insets” which are so recurring in his work and that appear again, by aligning with a permanent self-reflective practice, in the painting which closes the exhibition itinerary: Figure Abstract and Vice Versa (2019), a diptych where the figure of Oisín playing on the right is counterweighted by a panel divided in horizontal stripes on the left, whereas a harmonious interplay of joints, where a piece of each canvas fits with the other one, offers the key to the interpretation of a painting which keeps to facts by focusing on the exploration of its own essential means.
The exhibition is completed by a selection of works on paper that accompany each evolutionary stage of their entire career of Scully, and a film programme: Sean Scully: Set in Stone, 2008, directed by Michael Doyle; Sean Scully: Why This, Not That?, 2009, directed by Michael Doyle; Sean Scully: Art Comes From Need, 2010, directed by Hans Andreas Guttner; Sean Scully: There are no certainties in my paintings, 2011, directed by Laurence Topham and Michael Tait; The drawing out of the Eleuthera paintings, parts I and II, 2017 and 2018, directed by Sean Scully; A tour of Sean Scully’s studio by Oisín Scully, 2020, directed by Oisín Scully.
On the occasion of his retrospective exhibition in Bologna, Sean Scully will donate to the MAMbo a work that will become part of the Museum’s collection: Aix Wall 4 (2021).