Sean Scully at MAMbo: the retrospective on the evo...

Sean Scully at MAMbo: the retrospective on the evolution of thought and style

A Wound in a Dance with Love is the retrospective that MAMbo Bologna dedicates, until 9th October 2022, to Sean Scully (Dublin, 1945), an American artist of Irish origins who, after 26 years from the exhibition at Villa delle Rose, dedicated to him by the of Modern Art Gallery, returns as the protagonist to the Emilian capital.

The exhibition, curated by Lorenzo Balbi with the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin as main partner, is a continuation of the previous one entitled Sean Scully: Passenger – A Retrospective, curated by Dávid Fehér and organized by the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery of Budapest (14thOctober 2020 – 30thMay 2021), later exhibited at the Benaki Museum in Athens.

The selected works are about the evolution of the artist from the Sixties to today, the expressive developments of language, which is abstracted starting from the figurative, to then linger in the representation of daily family life, in his most recent works. There are strong references to the masters of ancient and contemporary art with whom Scully engages in dialogue, drawing inspiration from them, but at the same time considering them a basis for his abstract art, albeit phenomenological. The decomposition of the surfaces takes place in a mental way, with method and rigor. The floors are divided into grids, lines, rectangles, squared spaces, punctuated by the succession of geometric shapes.

Color plays a fundamental role for Scully; it is through it that he communicates his way of extracting reality, of representing it in an alternative way, reflecting emotions, sensations, feelings, lived life. It is a way of redesigning reality through an alternative geometric, albeit close to that of Piet Mondrian, and with denser and more material backgrounds than Mark Rothko. Representation becomes spiritual, the essence of the essential, a means to express one’s interiority anchored to tradition, but influenced by the avant-gardes and all subsequent art.

The exhibition itinerary opens with two major works: What Makes Us Too (2017) and Uninsideout (2018-2020). The peculiarity that distinguishes Scully’s works is the introduction of geometric elements within the pictorial space, making the alternation and subdivision of forms in the representation even more evident. The paintings Fort #1(1978) and Blackcloth (1970) show the beginning of the path of abstraction starting from the subdivision of reality into repetitive, but at the same time rigorously organized forms, horizontal and vertical subdivision lines, which give life to a new representation of Roman encampments.

In the center of the Ciminiere Room Opulent Ascension (2019) dominates, an imposing sculpture set up on the occasion of the 58th Venice Biennale in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, made of felt and into which the viewer can access following the ascending three-dimensionality with his eyes. It represents the three-dimensional realization of the artist’s complex reflection, even on what the work of art itself covers. As he explains: «Felt: a material that is pressed in order to exist, and not woven starting from a line. […] Can the skin of something, of any being, of any object, be so preponderant as to define what it is? So much so that everything inside becomes subordinate to what is outside. I love this question. Because I will never be able to answer” (Sean Scully, New York, 9th March, 2020).

On the walls of the Ciminiere Room, there are some artworks from the Landline series, including those dedicated to the second son: Oisín Green (2016) and Oisín Sea Green (2016) and, tributes to Malevič with Black Square (2020), created during the pandemic Covid-19 and to van Gogh, with Vincent (2002). It is thanks to the observation of van Gogh’s Chair that the artist says: «The chair is what made all this possible for me. Entering the world of art thinking that I could really have made paintings. Because it was so honest, sincere. And, of course, the chair has a part in the center that is intertwined… There is no space in my paintings. They are very claustrophobic; I’m like van Gogh».

In the lateral section one comes across In The Bather (1983), with bright colors, such as green, blue and orange and of which the artist reports: «Like many of my paintings… [The Bather] is a tribute, in this case to the great French painter Matisse and to his painting Bathers at the river. As you can see, it is quite a joyful picture, meaning that the colors are very reminiscent of nature and the composition has a kind of dizzying madness, a sense of ecstasy. It is physical and very structured, but the structure is not that of reason. It is the structure of feeling».

They are also present Empty Hearth (1987), the result of the sense of deep pain for the loss of the first son, Mariana (1991) and Long Light (1998), part of the MAMbo collection, fundamental for the development of the artist’s attention to the study of light on surfaces and walls, attested in later works such as Wall of Light Blue Black Sea (2009).

To further characterize the exhibition itinerary is the projection of some films on the artist and his career, studies carried out with different techniques and the work Aix Wall 4 (2021), inspired by Morandi and which will be donated by the artist to MAMbo. The Bolognese artist is also honored by Scully through the exhibition of two other artworks in the Morandi Museum: Cactus (1964) and Two Windows Gray Diptych (2000).

To complete the entire excursus, there are the figurative artworks of the Madonnaseries created by Scully between 2018 and 2019. The protagonists of the scenes are his son and wife immortalized during scenes of daily life, at the seaside, while playing. The theme of motherhood is very dear to the artist, who in this series emphasizes sentiment, tenderness, the emotional exchange between the protagonists.

The Sean Scully catalog accompanies the exhibition: Sean Scully. A Wound in a Dance with Love (MAMbo Editions, 2022).


Sean Scully, A Wound in a Dance with Love
curated by Lorenzo Balbi
22/06/2022 – 9/10/2022
via Don Minzoni, 14 Bologna

Sean Scully, A Wound in a Dance with Love, installation view, MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2022. Ph. Ornella De Carlo, courtesy Istituzione Bologna Musei, MAMbo

Sean Scully, A Wound in a Dance with Love, installation view, MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2022. Ph. Ornella De Carlo, courtesy Istituzione Bologna Musei, MAMbo

Sean Scully, A Wound in a Dance with Love, installation view, MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2022. Ph. Ornella De Carlo, courtesy Istituzione Bologna Musei, MAMbo


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