Marisa Albanese (1947–2021)
August 27th, 2021
Italian artist Marisa Albanese, whose practice embraced painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation, died August 20 at the age of seventy-four. Intensely interested in movement, both physical and mental, and touching on themes of stratification, dislocation, and energy flows, Albanese often addressed immigration and concepts of the “other” in her work.
Born in Naples in 1947, Albanese graduated from the Liceo Artistico Palizzi in that city, and then from the painting program at the Academy of Fine Arts, Naples. She later graduated from the modern literature program at the “Federico II” University of Naples. Equally influenced by the neoclassical sculpture of Antonio Canova, the early Renaissance paintings of Piero della Francesca, and the gestalt therapy popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, she at first made mostly drawings, then briefly gave up the idea of being an artist altogether, fearing financial instability. Deciding to instead “project [her]self into the darkness” and return to art in 1980, she turned her focus to the relationship between viewer and object, creating works intended to blur the boundary between spectator and sculpture, demanding that the former move around and sometimes through the latter. Her Grande gioco (Great Game) of 1990, which she characterized as an “environmental installation, invited the viewer to enter its human-size aluminum confines in order to be bathed in soothing Klein-blue neon light.
In the early 2000s, Albanese turned from the human–sculpture relationship to the human figure itself. Her Going Through of 2005, a resin group of women, some partially unclad, all wearing helmets, recalls the plaster bodies of George Segal. In Albanese’s work, the figures’ lack of color evokes a melancholy similar to that characteristic of the American artist’s oeuvre, but their stance more confident, more heroic, their headgear placing them in the realm of such feminist figures as Joan of Arc. Other works of this time and nature include Le Combattenti (The Combatants), 2000, a permanent installation occupying the Quattro Giornate subway station in Naples, and Le allieve (The Schoolgirls), 2005, featuring young women, again wearing helmets, placed in a suspended cage.
Nomadism, displacement, and houselessness occupied the last fifteen years of her practice, bringing forward a theme which for her had first surfaced in the 1990s, as Italy became the focus of a migrant crisis, with 15,000 Albanians arriving on its shores, fleeing food shortages and social unrest there following the collapse of communism. Her works of the past decade and a half, fueled by the increasing flow of humanity around the world forced by global warming and political crises, are more nonrepresentational, as characterized by Vento del sud (South Wind), 2012, or her “Diariogrammi” drawing series, 2009–14, featuring nervous, shaky lines comprising nebulous clouds; and by her Mare chiuso (Closed Sea) of 2014, an electrically powered spinning aluminum dial placed in a broad field of salt.
“For me, ‘what’ you want to express is more important than the means by which you express yourself,” she told Lea Rose Kara in 2019, speaking on the disparate nature of her practice. “It frequently happens that even when the materials of my works are different, the artistic signature is the same and people recognize my work.”