The cribs and the relational art of Marina Lai at the San Martino Museum

A small exhibition dedicated to the evocative nativity scenes of Maria Lai, one of the most important Italian artists of the second half of the twentieth century, to whom the Neapolitan city has never dedicated a personal exhibition.

Proposed by the Regional Directorate of Museums of Campania, in collaboration with the Maria Lai Archive and Foundation, “A thread in the night” is curated by Marta Ragozzino: the exhibition is hosted in the spaces of the Museum and Certosa di San Martino, near the crib section , which collects the treasures of the Neapolitan tradition.

In a special and dedicated enveloping space, the exhibition encloses a silent break in the museum’s visit itinerary, which at Christmas attracts visitors and crib art enthusiasts, some of the most representative and original artist’s cribs created by Maria Lai in course of his long and intense activity, starting from the mid-fifties, when the artist gave shape to the first compositions dedicated to the Nativity in jute and terracotta.

Since then the nativity scene, in its various forms, always characterized by an enchanting essentiality and by a profound, almost spiritual reflection on emptiness and absence, which restores, in the lexicon chosen by Lai, the mystery of the sacred has been one of the central themes of the Sardinian artist’s research, who was a pupil of Arturo Martini as a young man.

Fundamental in the declination of the theme, the use of simple, poor materials, sometimes drawn from everyday life, as always in Lai’s poetics, such as the jute or terracotta of the first cribs, but also stones, wood, bread, the which, over time, the artist intervenes, composing and decomposing even some cribs already created, and recovering the figures in new, and often even more essential, compositions.

The art that activates the dialogue

Materials that are always sewn, or woven, or in any case connected, because art is connection and connection, art activates dialogue, allows you to enter into a relationship. For Lai, art is not in the object, in the physicality of the work, or in the characters of the crib, which often represents a path, a path of approach, but it is elsewhere, in the reality behind the appearance, in the void that transcends the physical dimension. With essential characters, often traced back to almost geometric figures, out of caves or huts, always under the vault of the starry sky, attracted and oriented by a thread in the night, which is that of the comet star (which becomes an ear of corn), the nativity scenes by Maria Lai, and the books of prophecies, sewn, bound and woven with threads, or the “calligraphy” of the 2000 war Christmases, which reminds us of today, bring the sacred back into the life of each of us.

For the artist, in fact, art is assimilated to life, embodies its fragility and potential and at the same time connects rational and irrational, visible and invisible, understandable and mysterious. Like the crib. Which is theatre, staging and clamor but at the same time mystery, rarefaction and silence. The exhibition is fully part of the programming of the Museum of San Martino, a site much visited and sought after in the winter months precisely for the presence of the crib section, in which the simple and very intense works of the Sardinian artist find a special setting, capable to evoke and update, in dialogue with the highly ornate elements of the traditional Neapolitan nativity scene, the mystery of birth and the need for spirituality but also for peace and freedom of our restless times.

The relational art of Marina Lai

Maria Lai was born in 1919 in Ulassai. Since she was a child she shows a strong artistic talent and she has the opportunity to have contacts with the art world (she poses for Francesco Ciusa for a portrait of her missing sister). A few years later, the family decides to enroll her in secondary schools in Cagliari, where she meets Salvatore Cambosu, who is the first to discover her artistic sensibility. In 1939 she moved to Rome to attend the Liceo Artistico and, once her studies were completed, she left for Verona and then to Venice, where she attended the Academy of Fine Arts, where she had the opportunity to follow the lessons by Arturo Martini. She returned to Sardinia, not without difficulty, in 1945. Here she resumed her friendship with Salvatore Cambosu and taught drawing in the elementary schools of Cagliari. She returns to Rome in 1956 and, the following year, at the L’Obelisco gallery, she holds her first personal exhibition. In 1971, at the Schneider Gallery in Rome, she exhibited the first Telai, a cycle that characterized the following ten years and brought her closer to the themes of poor art, while in the 1980s she dedicated herself to the first operations on the territory that would be worth the results most significant of his work. In 1981 in Ulassai you created the choral operation Binding yourself to the Mountain, her masterpiece, which anticipates the themes and methods of what will be defined, only in 1998, by the art critic Nicolas Bourriaud as “relational art”. Since the 1990s he has given life to a series of public art interventions which, thanks to a programmatic vision, will succeed, over time, in transforming Ulassai, his native town, into a real open-air museum, which finds its maximum expression in the “Stazione dell’Arte”, a museum of contemporary art dedicated to her. On 16 April 2013 she died in Cardedu at the age of 93.

The exhibition can be visited until March 19, 2023.

The cribs and the relational art of Marina Lai at the San Martino Museum