Beyond Painting. Beyond Sculpture: Dadamaino

An artist symbol of a new world

By La Galleria Nazionale

Costellation (1983) by Dada MainoLa Galleria Nazionale

"Dadamaino has overcome the 'pictorial problem', other measures showcase her work: her paintings are flags of a new world, they carry a new meaning, they don't just 'say things differently' but 'say new things'." (Piero Manzoni, 1961)

Dada Maino

Edoarda Emilia Maino was born in Milan in 1930. After finishing high school, she enrolled in the faculty of Medicine, but soon - drawn by painting - dropped out and began painting as a self-taught artist.

She discovers Lucio Fontana's work by chance, upon seeing a "Blue and purple spatial concept" displayed in a shop: for her, however, it is a momentous revelation.

From the mid-1950s, the young artist began to be called Eduarda, from whom the diminutive Dada derives, and she made her debut as a painter in the abstract and informal sector.

In 1957, she exhibited her self-portrait for a competition on the theme organised at the Galleria del Grattacielo of Milan.

Other participating artists include Enrico Baj, Roberto Crippa, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, with whom the young artist immediately established a close relationship, also starting to visit Bar Jamaica, the "hideout" of the Milanese avant-garde.

Volumes, 1958-60

Manzoni's influence grew stronger in Maino, pushing her away from painting and her traditional work tools.

In 1959, on the occasion of the group exhibition "The woman in contemporary art" at the Brera Gallery in Milan, the artist presents a Volumes for the first time: a monochrome canvas characterised by a large ovoid gash.

With the Volumes phase, Dada Maino conceived new works in which the canvas bears one or more cut-outs that produce large holes on the surface, in a vision very similar to Fontana's Space Concepts.

At first, holes appear irregular and take the whole canvas; from 1960 onward, however, holes become multiple and adopt regular geometries, whereas the canvas is left raw or painted black. The space between the canvas and the underlying surface - the wall - generates three-dimensional perceptual effects that vary according to the observation points.

Programmed and Kinetic Art

Maino exhibits her Volumes at the Azimut gallery by Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, coming into contact with the artists related to Programmed and Kinetic Art: from the Germans of "Group Zero", the Italians of the "Group T" and "Group" N ", to the French of "GRAV".

In 1961, Maino revealed Volumes with phase-shifted modules: sheets of rhodoid punched by hand and then superimposed to obtain a "phase shift of the weave, the alternation of the rhythm". In the same year, she presented Rilievi - first plexiglas tablets, then also sheets of rhodoid or cardboard - cut into countless strips, with identical scalar dimensions. Materials, receptive to light, which, depending on the spectator's movement, create light and shade interplays and optical suggestions of movement.

Punto Group

These are the years of the collectives, in which the figure of the artist-demiurge was strongly challenged. Along those lines, the "Punto Group" was founded in 1961 by Dada Maino, Antonio Calderara, Nanda Vigo, Kengiro Azuma, Hsiao Chin and LI Yuen-Chia - from which Maino will detach herself in '62.

In 1962, she showcased her work in several international exhibitions, including the personal exhibition “Maino. Monochrome Malerei” at the Galerie Senatore in Stuttgart, curated by Walter Schonenberger who inserts her works within that monochromatic current, started by Yves Klein and carried on by Manzoni, Castellani, Piene, Mack and others.


She joined the Nouvelle Tendance movement and participated in the international exhibition of the latter at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1964. For the occasion, she exhibits three works never presented before: two "Optical-dynamic objects" and an "indeterminate optical-dynamic object". In this period, the name Dadamaino begins to appear as a single word.

The quest for colour

In the first half of 1970, Dadamaino devoted herself to systematic studies for Colour search in which she used the seven colours of the spectrum, searching for the average chromovalue among them - as well as white, black and brown (ten colours).

The Fluorescenti consist of strips of fluorescent plastic on wood, which increase in size from top to bottom and which can be excited by Wood's light and moved with a fan or with your hands.

In 1974, Dadamaino with Gonschior, Bed, Ludwig and Tornquist formed the group "Team Colore" and during the group's first collective exhibition, the artist presented Cromorilievo.


In 1981, she inaugurated an important solo exhibition at the Walter Storms Galerie in Villingen where, in addition to the Alphabet of the mind and The facts of life, she exhibited Constellations for the first time. In this work, graphic signs become ever smaller, losing all reference to a hypothetical mental alphabet while thickening or dispersing, simulating molecular motions and stellar galaxies.

The colour reappears in these works albeit used in a monochromatic way on every single sheet. The Constellations were exhibited for the first time in Italy in August 1982, at the Butti Museum in Viggiù in a solo exhibition curated by Flaminio Gualdoni.

"Once again, the play is driven by the sense of practice that Dadamaino always conveys: no preordained line of development of the procedure, neutrality with respect to the complex making of the work and yet, at the same time, clear, rigorous scrutiny of what happens on the surface: a creative intensity that fills these works with the splendid tension that is their own."

Alphabet of the mind

In 1976, Dadamaino conceived the Alphabet of the mind, which arises from the modular, freehand repetition of a single ink sign, a single letter invented in memory of the Palestinian genocide in Tall El Zaatar in 1976.

Vertical and horizontal signs alternate in an obsessive way, defining an invented language, a sort of illegible and personal alphabet. Canvases and sheets are invaded by these graphemes, seamlessly.

Credits: All media
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