How Italian Art Institute Collezione Maramotti Perpetually Supports Female Artists

BY Osman Can Yerebaka / Feb 17 2020 / 18:32 PM

The institution continues its support of female artists with Max Mara Art Prize for Women, given every two years to a UK-based female artist in collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery

How Italian Art Institute Collezione Maramotti Perpetually Supports Female Artists
Courtesy of the artist

The most recent winner, Helen Cammock’s exhibition Che si può fare, launched at the institute’s Reggio Emilia building in October and is on view until 8 March.

Reggio Emilia, a few hours from Milan’s Fondazione Prada and Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, is home to another perfect marriage of fashion and collectorship: Collezione Maramotti, an institution dedicated to grand Modern art collection of Max Mara company. The fashion giant’s late founder Achille Maramotti started his art collection in mid-1950s, a few years before the opening of Max Mara’s factory, which now houses Maramotti’s permanent collection as well as thematic shows around artists and subjects of our times.

Designed by architecture duo Pastorini and Salvarini in 1957 with a then-revolutionary emphasis on natural light and function, the modernist building located in the centre of this quaint Northern Italian city went through two expansions in the following decade. In 2003, the factory moved its operations outside Reggio Emilia, leaving its spacious, light-filled interior for display of the expansive collection after a transformation project helmed by British architect Andrew Hapgood.

Currently, the Maramotti art collection spans major European and American movements such as Arte Povera, art informel, neo-expressionism and abstract expressionism over its several thousands of pieces; however, the institution’s biggest contribution to art of today is its prestigious Max Mara Art Prize for Women, granted every two years to a UK-based female artist.

Rewarded in partnership with London’s famed nonprofit art organisation Whitechapel Gallery, the accolade thus has been handed to a host of remarkable names, including Laure Prouvost and Emma Hart, joined most recently by Helen Cammock, a 49-year-old artist working on the intersection of poetry, language and lens-based practice.

Spending six months in Reggio Emilia and its surrounding cities as part of her residency, Cammock connected with local women coming from various ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds and she observed their diverse performances of lament in the most expressive or demure fashions. “Mourning is articulated in varying ways; however, both in Ireland and the Caribbean, where my family is from, for example, people express their grief very loudly despite of their cultural differences," says the artist. 


Mona Osman. Self Crucifixion. 2019. Oil and mixed media on canvas. 155x120 cm

© the artist Courtesy C&C Gallery, London

Cammock’s residency cumulated into an exhibition, entitled Che si può fare, which debuted at the Whitechapel in early summer. The exhibition recently travelled to Collezione Maramotti, where the ground floor gallery is filled with stories of Italy-based women, some of which are North African or Middle Eastern immigrants, in the form of film and vinyl cut prints. The three-channel film, Chorus I, chronicles the artist’s touching encounters with her subjects in the backdrop of equally heartbreaking Baroque songs composed by 17th century woman musician Barbara Strozzi, whose namesake operatic lament lends its name to the exhibition. 

Collezione Maramotti’s commitment to fostering careers of woman artists from different generations spills into its concurrent exhibition Rhizome and the Dizziness of Freedom, dedicated to Bristol-based emerging painter, Mona Osman. The 27-year-old’s multicultural upbringing with a Sudanese father and a Jewish Hungarian mother in England is manifested in her visually-dense paintings of bodily transformation, morphing abstraction, and subliminal repetitions, orchestrated in fleshy tones and sharp forms.

The artist created five paintings exhibited at the building’s Pattern Room simultaneously, weaving an intertwined narrative between each canvas and letting works compliment one another. “I hope there’s a cohesive narrative between the paintings, because I want them to evolve together,” says Osman when asked about her decision to finish different paintings all at once. “When I start and finish a character on canvas, that defines the next figure in a sequence.” Osman accentuates her paintings with cut-out pieces dipped in resin or liquid latex, adding corporal and tactile textures to her tempestuous visual lexicon that takes cues from old testaments, traditional European paintings and myths.

Her source of material for the cutouts is no other than paintings she formerly made but put aside. “If I didn’t like them in oil painting, I know they’d have other lives in this context—we can only define things in relation to other elements,” explains the artist, admitting her fasciation for different sheens and surfaces on a single canvas.

Collezione Maramotti recently announced five artists shortlisted to win the next Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which will be honoured with a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel and their space in 2021. Speaking to a crowd gathered for the announcement in early October, Max Mara's President Luigi Maramotti said: “There was something missing for women artists, and Whitechapel Director Ivona Blazwick and I realised this was the time and possibility to have unique experiences as artists and human beings.” Blazwick later added that they aim to change the art history one woman at a time, and announced next cycle’s nominees, who are Tai Shani, Katie Schwab, Hanna Tuulikki, AllisonKatz, and Emma Talbot.

The nominees were selected by a jury that includes gallerist Florence Ingleby, artist Chantal Joffe, collector Fatima Maleki, art criticHettie Judah, in addition to Blazwick.