Allison Malinsky’s ‘Primavera’: A Show at NIKI

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Until June 6, 2024: PRIMAVERA by ALLISON MALINSKY. NIKI (Netherlands Interuniversity Institute for Art History), Viale Torricelli 5, Florence (bus 11 or 12).  Open Monday – Friday 9 am to 5:30 pm. Free entrance

NIKI celebrates the opening of its first exhibition in five years, La Primavera by artist-in-residence Allison Malinsky, which provides an opportunity to reconnect with nature in a unique and special way.  The collection draws inspiration from Florentine masterpiece La Primavera by Botticelli as well as the natural beauty of Mediterranean landscapes. To Malinsky, “Spring represents growth, maturity and love.”

Her work sees nature as a reflection of the human condition, as does the Dutch poem ‘Mei’ by Herman Gorter, which was a significant influence on the artist . The poem’s botanical symbolism personifies May as a sister who ushers in the new season through dance by spreading flowers as she spins, the story that inspired the oil on linen Dance in the favorable Zephyrus wind. This piece is an example of Malinsky’s talent in replicating movement in nature and the blissful breeze of Spring that we see throughout the collection.

While being able to portray the beauty of nature in her own abstract style, Malinsky also incorporates visuals of humanity in a romantic yet humbling way that draws the viewer into the dance of the painting. Her Three Graces oil painting is wonderfully personal in this sense; amongst the brightly colored flowers of spring are the impressions of two feminine figures, with the Third Grace being the onlooker themselves, moving as one. This painting serves as a reminder that humanity is harmonious with the beauty of nature, and serves as a modern ode to Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ in its celebration of femininity and fertility. Botticelli himself was also inspired by his study of poetry, making this creative process a revival of classical techniques. She also describes that strategic use of color is the component of her work that creates structure and conveys the themes she depicts.

Malinksy’s Awakening Pine uses light as a symbol of renewal and rejuvenation, as the striking yellow creates movement by encouraging the viewer to watch as the figure of the pine opens her chest to the bright ecstasy of Spring. The artist credits and honors the role of literature as an influence in the title of her painting: From May’s mouth dripped a drop and bloom, out of the ground, a Cornflower awakened amid the bright shadows of her sisters. This painting depicts a water droplet amidst a representation of a clock-like structure, counting the sister months of May. The colors in this piece are bright yet there is an incredible sense of visual flow.

There is a consistent theme of determination of will in her work, both her own determination and that of nature. With this in mind, she created 40 individual watercolor paintings, each an enticing abstract representation of the identified flowers in Botticelli’s undisputed masterpiece Primavera, or Spring.  Malinsky sees each flower as a character with a purpose to be understood and appreciated. She describes that watercolor was ideal for this project because of its lightness, and the way it can be layered to create the gentle essence of a petal. Each painting differs from the rest in terms of texture, color, boldness and meaning.

Small details and patterns give each piece their own original story, yet when they are presented together they work harmoniously to illustrate the beauty of nature. The poetic meaning behind each flower is what makes them so special, and Malinsky emphasizes the individuality of each one by thoughtfully naming them with their virtues in mind. Jasmine: a sample of grace highlights its symbolism in society, as well as the Italian name Crescione: crescere l’amore for Cress, which draws a connection to the theme of love. Other recognizable examples include CAMOMILE: Calm Camomila, DAISY: The trial of he/she loves me, he/she loves me not and MYRTLE: Covering the nakedness of Venus emerging from the sea. Each name reflects the spiritual and symbolic value humanity has associated with these flowers in the past and present, transforming the collection into a nostalgic and thought-provoking mirror to society. 

With individuality and personality being a key theme of the collection, Malinsky designed 12 individual works on paper to depict each month of the year as its own fascinating being. By moving from charcoal, to watercolor, to pencil and graphite, each work is a poetic representation of the passage of time and the process of constant development of natural landscapes experienced in phases throughout the year. It is wonderful to see how their unique colors, patterns, themes and personalities create an optimistic view of each season. 

Botany at NIKI is perceived as an art form in itself, with the institute’s gardens a part of the exhibition by extension. Having created the works at a studio at NIKI, Malinsky studied botany and planted flowers there to cultivate the gardens in time for the blossoming of Spring. This initiative transformed the gardens into a magnificent backdrop for the exhibition; the flowers, colors and themes we see within the works can also be seen in many of the flowers in the gardens. Thus, the union of the two serves as an aesthetically pleasing reminder of the power and beauty of nature. The show is guaranteed to leave the viewer with a newfound appreciation for the natural world on their doorstep in Tuscany.  (Jessica Baird) 

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