Museo di Storia Naturale

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Corso Venezia 55, 20121 Milan

Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Last admission 4:30 p.m.)
Admission: Adults 5€ / Reduced 3€ / Free under 18

Mad Meg
Giorgio de Chirico (Collezione Ramo)


Ironically titled Patriarchs, French artist Mad Meg's solo exhibition depicts a series of insects dressed as men, about two meters tall and made in pen and ink. These beings symbolize certain flaws of masculinity and are meticulously described with microscopic details and textural textures that can only be deciphered from very close up.

The Patriarchs have a title that coincides with their main activity: the pollinator(Patriarche No. 34 - Le Pollinisateur), the soldier(Patriarche No. 178 - Le Soldat), the analyst(Patriarche No. 5 - L'Analyste), the fisherman(Patriarche No. 24 - Le Pêcheur), the gold digger(Patriarche No. 8 - El Dorado), and the conjurer(Patriarche No. 22 - L'Escamoteur).

The soldier, with a strong anti-militarist charge, is the first in the Patriarchs series and is characterized by a tiger beetle head, aggressive jaws, and the uniform of a World War I German soldier awarded the Prussian cross, later also taken up by the Nazi army.

Thepollinator combats the idea of man at the origin of life and woman identified with reproduction and reduced to a mere incubator.

Theanalyst alludes to the theme of hysteria theorized and diagnosed by Freud in the famous case of the patient Dora, referred to by the female reproductive apparatus embedded in the skull held by the insect-man.

For the fly-headed prospector Mad Meg relied on an old photograph of Bernard Otto Holtermann who found the world's largest gold nugget in his mine in 1872. Next to the nugget, satellite views of different gold mining methods are outlined. At the foot of the nugget, a small painting depicts a stereotypical view of mythical gold cities. Three Chinese ideograms appear at the top of three temples, signifying gold, prosperity (actually obtained by repeating the gold ideogram three times) and excrement, commenting on the eagerness for wealth at all costs.

The magician has instead of a skull the male genital organ of an insect and in his hand a clitoris, in reference to certain fake scholars who formally appropriate feminist theories to pursue their own ends in the opposite direction.

The fisherman proudly displays his fishing trophy. The artist's critique here rages against the practice of fishing for giant carp, which is a species threatened by sport competition. His body is made up of a school of anchovies, which are also threatened by intensive fishing, while the hook handle shows global fishing statistics in 2016.

Mad Meg then also chose a Giorgio de Chirico work depicting archaeologists with mannequin heads, borrowed from the Ramo Collection, to underscore a gap between the appearance of the body attached to an official role and the true essence of the person.

Mad Meg 's works are in direct dialogue with exhibits from the Natural History Museum's entomological collection presented in glass cases in the center of the room. Entomologists prepared the specimens in accordance with the type of insects featured in the artist's series of drawings.

In particular, the following are presented: a specimen of the giant stick insect from Malaysia, caterpillars, chrysalis, adult nocturnal lepidopterans, pollinators such as the common bumblebee, wood bee, domestic or honey bee with specimens of all castes (queen, drones and workers) and some honeycomb fragments. Finally, there is a display case containing several species of flies from the family Sirfidae and some of the beetles most sought after by collectors, the carabidae and cycindeles. The former are larger and often have liveries with metallic colors, making them particularly attractive; the latter tend to have more mimetic colorationswith characteristic patterns or spots.

Paired with the entomological specimens are a number of books selected from the vast collections of the Museum of Natural History's library, among which theEntomologie plates by Guillaume-Antoine Olivier (1789-1808) and depictions of exotic insects by Dru Drury (1837) and Edward Donovan (1842) stand out for their beauty. Equally fascinating is the silkworm metamorphosis on mulberry leaves (1856), which is described here in its different stages by Emilio Cornalia, director of the Museum from 1866 to 1882.

Mad Meg answers questions from
Irina Zucca Alessandrelli, curator of Collezione Ramo

Give a definition of what drawing is for you.

For me, drawing is a form of expression close to the idea. Writing is a form of drawing, and drawing is used to make plans, calendars and maps. Drawing is often the basis for other works, but it can also stand alone. I like it when this is mixed together, such as with calligrams, pictograms or symbols.

What is your relationship with drawing?

I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I use drawing to develop my ideas and also as an outlet. It is a bit like meditation, but I often compare it to digestion. Creativity is a nurturing activity, and drawing has always given me a hypnotic pleasure and great serenity. In fact, drawing is pretty much all I do.

What about with the history of Italian art in the last century?

I know very little about modern drawing, including Italian drawing. But I really enjoyed browsing through the drawings in Collezione Ramo and discovering drawings by the great artists of the 20th century. The collection really captures the diversity of possible approaches to drawing. It was difficult to choose just one image among these monuments to drawing from the last century.

Why did you choose this work from Collezione Ramo?

I chose a preparatory drawing by de Chirico. This painter is admirable for his way of representing mental spaces and allegories of ideas. In fact, it is quite common to see his works illustrating books on philosophy. I really like the spontaneity and simplicity of this drawing. The three figures depicted give an impression of gigantism, not only because of the architectural elements protruding from their abdomens. De Chirico invented allegories for the 20th century, just as I am trying to do for the 21st.