Mirella Bentivoglio


ph. by Alessandro Alimonti

Mirella Bentivoglio  (Klagenfurt 1922 - Rome 2017)

Mirella Bentivoglio was a poet, artist, critic, curator and a key figure in the Italian and international verbo-visual art scene. She was born in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1922, to Italian parents and had a multilingual upbringing in German-speaking Switzerland and in England (where she obtained her Proficiency diploma in English). She began writing and publishing poetry in Italian and in English when he was young, (edited by Scheiwiller and Vallecchi, and reviewed by Giorgio Caproni, Italo Defeo, Mario Praz). She then found her vocation for expression in language and image, and joined the international neo avant-garde verbo-visual artistic movements of the second half of the 20thcentury and became one of its main protagonists. She died in Rome, aged 94, in 2017.

Personal exhibitions

Mirella Bentivoglio had numerous solo shows, mainly in public venues, in Italy, Spain, Germany, England, Holland, the Czech Republic, United States, Brazil and Japan, (presented by Italian and foreign critics such as Enrico Crispolti, Gillo Dorfles, Frances Pohl e Krystyna Wasserman). Some of her most memorable anthologies were held in the Galleria Schwarz Gallery in Milan (1971), in the Pictogram Gallery in Rome (1973), at Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome (1996) and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington (1999), and more recently in the Oculus Gallery in Tokyo (2010), Pomona College in Claremont (2003 and 2015), the Gubbio Biennial (2016), the Gallery of Engraving in Brescia (2018),  the MACMA (Matino and Lecce, between 2011 and 2013), the Nuova Era Museum in Bari (2018) and the Conceptual Gallery in Milan (2019). In 2019, a solo show of more than forty of her works from the Garrera Collection, was presented at the Laboratory of Contemporary Art Museum at the Sapienza University in Rome.

Collective exhibitions

She participated in collectives in museums, galleries and universities in Europe, America, the East and Far East, Canada and Australia. She exhibited ten times at the Venice Biennial: in 1969 and 1972, twice in 1978 and again in 1980, 1986, 1995, 2001 and 2009 and her work will be present at the 59th edition of the Venice Biennial ‘The Milk of Dreams’, in 2022, curated by Cecilia Alemani. She took part in the XI National Quadrennial in Rome, 1986, and participated in the Sao Paolo Brazil Biennial three times between 1973 and 1994, and three times at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, between 1978 and 1982. Her work was on show at Documenta Kassel in 1982, the MoMA in New York in 1992, Palazzo Pitti in Florence in 2001, Milan Expo in 2015, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2018.

 Curatorial activity

She curated and presented collectives and exhibitions at the Biennials in Venice, Sao Paolo, and Medellin; at Colombia University, New York; the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo; Centro Pecci in Prato; Recife Museum, Brazil; Perth Festival, Australia; Expo-Art in Bari; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome; in Greece, Spain, Finland and the MoMA in New York. Her donations of artworks, acquired over the years during her curatorial activity, have enriched permanent collections in museums such as the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome, the MART in Rovereto, the MUSINF in Senigallia, the Nori de’ Nobili Museum in Trecastelli, the Pecci in Prato, MACMa in Matino and the MAGA in Gallarate.


Symbolic structures

Mirella Bentivoglio calls “Symbolic structures” the works which she builds or sets in the urban space. She has been active in this line since the mid – Seventies, when she constructed, within the framework of “Gubbio 76”, an egg of stones which is still standing near the ancient doors of Gubbio. a most beautiful medioeval town of Central Italy.

The egg is a monument (with reference to the adultress stoned to death) and it is similar to the stony houses and the huge city walls which frame the rhomboidal square where the unexpected symbol gives away to a new relationship of signs, a new semiologic climat. For Bentivoglio's artistic biography Gubbio egg has been a turning point, a passage to an unusual urban scale and context, of a production between language and image which she has developed as a protagonist of concrete- visual poetry since the mid – Sixties.

“I started using the egg as a symbol in 71”, reminds me Bentivoglio, “and have produced a lot of objects with an egg, and several collages with the photographic image of an egg. In 71 my objectual poem “ab ovo” dedicated to the alternative between nature and technology, proposed two “O” each containing an egg (on natural, polluted; one artificial, in transparent acrylic resin with a screw and a small wheel inside).

Since that moment I have started using that symbol related to other signs; the “O” from which it had been generated had became superfluous”.

The present exhibition documents not only the big egg, but also the “E” -  shaped symbolic structures which appeared as three – dimensional projects at the Venice Biennale in 1978 and have been situated in another open space of Gubbio in 1981.

At a graphic level the “E”s were born in 73. (“E” in Italian is not only a letter but also a grammatical conjunction; it means “and”; as well as “O”, in Italian, means “or”).

In 77 Bentivoglio started use “E”s in three dimensions; in 78 they assumed gigantic size, as proposals, to be inserted in the urban environment.

It is necessary to confront, in terms of semiologic declination, the difference between the two structures.

“The egg” tells Mirella “is life as individual destiny, solitude, birth and death, the natural law.  The “E” is relationship, plurality, community. E-and are always many, egg-or is alone. Egg-or is “mater” origin totality; E-and is the interior result of an open, equal, dynamic connection between everything that is complementary”.

The semiologic analysis of language enlarges itself in Bentivoglio's work into the visual dimension graphic writing, brought back through its alphabetic scansion to its primary ideographic matrix. But in the practice of the urban scene this analysis reaches further implications, for the chain of interrelated connections of these structures with the space in which they happen to be placed, and for the type of behaviouristic answer which they provoke, being situated in a concrete, public, every-day reality.

Enrico Crispolti, 1982 


Marilla Battilana


Tomaso Binga