Press Release

On the occasion of the centenary of her birth, MAXXI is dedicating a major exhibition to Maria Lai. More than 200 works will be on display, reconstructing her complex and fascinating biography and free and unprejudiced approach to creativity.

"I played with great dedication, and at a certain point, they called my games art" -Maria Lai



International exhibitions

International Archives 1st half of 2019

Maria Lai, Holding the sun by the hand (Tenedo per mano il sole)

MAXXI Rome (Italy)

19.06.2019 - 12.01.2020




Maria Lai, Holding the sun by the hand, MAXXI Rome

© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2019. All Rights Reserved

MAXXI, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts is devoting a major exhibition entitled Tenendo per mano il sole to Maria Lai (1919-2013), one of the most original voices in Italian contemporary art. An artist with extraordinary generative capacities, ahead of the artistic research of her time, which would catch up only later, she succeeded in creating a different and original language while being aware of the long process of decantation that her art would have to undergo before it achieved recognition. Today that process appears to be complete: over the last few years there have been numerous initiatives devoted to her, and her works have recently been displayed at Documenta 14 and the 2017 edition of the Venice Biennale.

The retrospective at MAXXI focuses on what has been defined as her second period, that is to say, the works she created from the 1960s and which she started exhibiting again, following a long absence from the public and the art scene, only in 1971.

The exhibition has been produced in collaboration with the Archivio Maria Lai and Fondazione Stazione dell’Arte, with the patronage of the Municipality of Ulassai and the support of the Fondazione di Sardegna. More than 200 works will be on display, including sewn books, sculptures, Geographies, public works and her celebrated Looms, presenting as comprehensively as possible, the personality of Maria Lai and the diverse aspects of her work. The exhibition will also feature some works recently added to the MAXXI Collection: Terra, 1984; Il viaggiatore astrale, 1989; Bisbigli, 1996; Pagina cucita, 1978 and Untitled, 2009, a rare Geography on acetate currently being accepted as a donation.

The exhibition

Tenendo per mano il sole is the title of the exhibition and the first Sewn Fable made by the artist. Both the title and the work contain many of the elements typical of Lai’s research: her interest in poetry, language and the word; the cosmogony of her geographies evoked by the sun; the pedagogical vocation implicit in that “taking by the hand.” Not so much a classic retrospective as a story that is not bound by purely chronological constraints and follows a peculiar biographical and artistic path, characterised by discourses and intuitions apparently left suspended before being taken up again many years later.

Through a broad selection of works, many of them previously unseen, the exhibition presents the multi-faceted world of Maria Lai and the dense stratification of ideas and suggestions that characterised her imaginary. The show is structured in five sections which take their name from citations or the titles of works by Lai, while the subtitle describes the typical methods of her research; the voice of Maria Lai accompanies each section through a montage of previously unseen material compiled by the director Francesco Casu. There is also a final section documenting the works of environmental art realised by the artist, in particular in the Ogliastra region.

Curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Luigia Lonardelli

Maria Lai,  Tenendo per mano il sole,  1984-2004. Thread, cloth, velvet,  33 x 63 cm. Private collection. Photo: Francesco Casu. Courtesy Archivio Maria Lai.  ゥ  Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2019.

Maria Lai,  Tenendo per mano il sole,  1984-2004. Thread, cloth, velvet,  33 x 63 cm. Private collection. Photo: Francesco Casu. Courtesy Archivio Maria Lai.  ゥ  Archivio Maria Lai by SIAE 2019.

Exhibition June 19, 2019 - January 12, 2020. MAXXI - National Museum of 21st Century Arts , Via Guido Reni 4A  - 00196 Rome (Italy). Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 11am–7pm, Saturday 11am–10pm.