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  • Osart Gallery

Mirella Bentivoglio between image and language

Mirella Bentivoglio (1922 - 2017) was one of the masters of the international visual poetry movement. She was not only an artist but also a critic and a curator.

Her work on words aims to understand the multiplicity of meanings, deconstructing syntax, and graphic signs.

Mirella was born into an Italian family in Klagenfurt, and her surname was Bertarelli. In 1949 she married Ludovico Matteo Bentivoglio; from then on, she adopted his surname (also because of the meaning of the name "Bentivoglio" which sounds like "I love you").

She debuted as a poet in the '40s, with the collection of poems Giardino (published by Scheiwiller, 1943). Early after, she dedicated herself to visual art, both as an artist and as a critic. She moved on the boundary between text and image, promoting female artists that worked on that issue.

As she wrote, she didn't have any breakaway intention, but the will to survey those artists who weren't before under the lights.

She always worked in a frontier territory: between artistic practice and art critic, and between images, objects and words.

Among her first texts as a critic, we can found a monograph dedicated to Ben Shan in 1963. It is curious to notice that Carla Lonzi (an Italian important feminist and art critic) dedicated one of her first texts, in 1955, to the same American painter.

Mirella's curatorial activity started thanks to the early collaboration with Ugo Carrega. At Centro Tool, in Milan, a cultural space run by Carrega, in January 1972 Bentivoglio curated an international exhibition of Verbo visual female operators. After that date, she curated several shows dedicated to that group. One of the most important was "Materialization of language" at the Venice Biennale in 1978.

The Biennale director, Carlo Ripa di Meana, asked her to fill the lack of female artists. So, Bentivoglio presented an exhibition with 80 present and past artists that worked on the relationship between text and image. Among them, there were artists such as Cathy Barberian, Tomaso Binga, Irma Blank, Betty Danon, Sonia Delaunay, Agnes Denes, Chiara Diamantini, Amelia Etlinger, Natalia Goncharova, Elisabetta Gut, Ketty La Rocca, Maria Lai, Lucia Marcucci, Anna Oberto, Giulia Niccolai, Betty Radin, Regina, Olga Rozanova, Chima Sunada e Carla Vasio. The show displayed works from the Russian Avantgarde to Japanese Calligraphy, from performance to sound experimentations.

"One peculiarity of these feminine operations," wrote Bentivoglio in the catalogue, "is the transformation of language into textile, as it was a long time ago. Maybe it is a test on the penetration into the unconscious, or maybe it is the woman who gets in touch with Myth. Fates' wire, Arianna's wire, Arachne's wire, the wire of a broken dialogue, that now seems to be mended"


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