watercolor on paper, string, watercolor cutout
11 x 8 inches
Mila Dau was born in Rome, Italy and grew up in both Italy and Canada.
She obtained a B.A. in Philosophy from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada and a M.A. in Architecture from l’Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy.
She has exhibited her work both in Europe and in the United States.
She currently lives and works in New York.
Mila Dau has produced two artists’ books – Oracles, a selection of miniature views of contemporary art museums and ancient architectural monuments, and Face to Face, taken from a continuing series of extemporaneous portraits of artists in oil on linen.
Her artists’ books are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, The Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine, the Whitney Museum of Art in New York and private collections in Europe and the U.S.
Museums – the containers of art – have been the content of my art for several years. Without doubt, my training as an architect had something to do with my choosing to paint museums and museum spaces. But my interest also stems from the excitement and sense of belonging that I felt when I visited museums. The sense of belonging had an especially important role in my personal and creative development since I was the child of two emigrants who had left Italy in the brain drain immediately after the war. Art offered me a sort of super national identity that went beyond specific geographic and cultural boundaries. Housed in museums and collections throughout the world, art nevertheless offered those who needed to identify with its origins the possibility to do so. I discovered very early that this was a world to which you could belong without papers, passports or entry visas and I immediately felt attracted and intuited that it would become an important part of my life.
I saw art not only as a product of human creativity but also as an opportunity to discover and create a personal identity. Museums were the containers of art but also places of potential learning and growth and of individual wellbeing. Yet after years of intense frequentation of museums, I began to focus more and more on the container and to notice that in some cases, it had become the real center of attention, sometimes to the detriment of the works of art. That is how I embarked therefore upon a passionate and ongoing exploration of the buildings and architecture of historical and contemporary museums, making this quest from 1991 on the central theme of my work, through series of formally different but conceptually related project cycles.
By 2009-10 I was basically painting empty spaces: monochrome views of the interiors of contemporary art titled Enfilades and photo-based interior views titled Flooded Halls. But these architectures were filled with layers of colored glazes dripping across the surface of the painting, what Claudia Conforti called “viscous horizontal filaments, intensely red, acidly yellow or electrically blue which ripple upwards like a liquid and undermine the architecture’s Euclidean exactitude.” The sense of balance that museum spaces had conveyed now was being undermined. Visitors, guards, custodians, and other figures which in reality had always been there, started to come into focus and to appear in my work. The impact of these presences, of these “fellow-museum goers”, led me to the idea of working with figures taken from the museum sites.
I began Visitor Cutouts in 2010 and, as its title attests, the guards or visitors painted in oil on paper or linen glued to foam core were not initially intended to be a separation at all. Rather they were devised as a compositional tool for my works on paper and linen to give me infinite possibilities of aggregating and combining figures and backgrounds. It developed into an independent idea later, an installation proposal consisting of about forty cutouts of visitors and guards of different sizes hanging from above. But soon this idea became an independent resource which I explored and capitalized through various cycles of work.
This brings me to my current work today. Paradoxically, detaching from museums as the main focus of my work for the last several years and, at the same time, from the linen surface (but not from painting) has allowed me to return to the beginning with new ideas and a greater playfulness.
New York, 2016