Italian Fashion Brand: Max Mara Art Prize For Women

The biannual Max Mara Art Prize for Women makes me wish I was talented artistically. Not only does the winner get to spend time in Reggio Emilia, Catania and Rome, researching classical mythology, but also explore textile craftsmanship, permaculture and the myriad historic sites and institutions. Having minored in Classical Studies at University, six months spent in this way sounds to me like the quintessential gift from the gods.

Emma Talbot is the winner of the 8th Max Mara Prize which began in 2005 and supports UK-based female artists, and specifically those who have not previously had a major solo show. The award presents the opportunity for a fully-funded, bespoke Italian residency, followed by a solo exhibition of a new body of work, both in the UK and Italy.

Talbot’s residency was postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic and actually took place from June to December 2021. L to R: Emma Talbot at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome 2021. Photo: Tiwi; Talbot with Laura Lusuardi at the BAI Max Mara Archive, Reggio Emilia 2021. Photo: Alyssa D’Adamo.

This summer, work by Emma Talbot (b. 1969, UK) on display following her residency depicts the figure of the mature woman with a series of modern-day Labours of Hercules, challenges that suggest she represents someone with the potential to rebuild society, in a pro-ageing attitude, which is refreshing to say the least. At the time of writing no images have yet been released but Talbot’s work sounds intriguing.

In the Klimt painting the figure is shown with lowered head, often interpreted in a negative manner as shame. With a contemporary eye, I don’t see that but instead interpret the stance as representing the enormous challenges of female rights of passage, the transformation from adored child to revered mother to ‘no longer fertile’ elder. Thankfully, we are now very cognitive of the fact that growing old is a gift, one to be especially appreciated and celebrated, a time to begin new businesses or take up new interests and continue to make your mark.

Talbot’s winning proposal takes as a starting point Gustav Klimt’s painting Three Ages of Woman (1905), which portrays a naked elderly woman, a mother and child. The painting is housed at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. Photo: The Three Ages Of Woman (1905) by Gustav Klimt. Courtesy www.GustavKlimt.com

With a wealth of research material gathered over the six months to draw on, I am really excited to now formulate my findings into artworks and to have the space and time to do so. My project focuses on the trials of Hercules, imagined as thought experiments re-performed by an elderly woman, to interrogate contemporary issues of power, control, sustainability and possible futures.”

Emma Talbot, artist.


Emma Talbot at Modateca Deanna, Reggio Emilia, 2021. Photo: Tiwi.

Talbot’s project is being created in Italy and will incorporate the expertise of the historic fashion archive, Modateca Deanna, and Imax, the manufacturing division of the Max Mara, founded in 1951.

The work will take the shape of an immersive installation: a three-dimensional figure of the heroine who stands alone in a volatile postapocalyptic world where technology has been destroyed, set against a background featuring a silk painting, made with fabric from 100% recycled silk from Mantero, and depicting the landscapes from the artist’s travels in Sicily and Rome.

“This prize comes at a crucial point that seems incredibly timely for me, as I have only recently began to focus fully on my own work, having for many years taken on teaching roles to support my family, as a single parent… Just at the perfect time, this supportive and amazing opportunity to concentrate totally on my work, and undertake extended first-hand research, will be life-changing.”

Sounders of the Depths by Emma Talbot who studied at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and Royal College of Art. GEM Kunstmuseum, The Hague 2020. Photo Peter Cox.

Biennale Arte 2022

Talbot has been invited to join the prestigious Biennale Arte 2022 which opens this week, where she will be exhibiting work unrelated to the Max Mara award. The 59th Biennale takes its title, The Milk of Dreams, from a book by Surrealist Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) in which the artist portrays magical creatures in a world where human metamorphoses is entirely possible. The Venice exhibition will explore an imaginary journey through the fluid definitions of being human. #BiennaleArte2022 #TheMilkOfDreams

Image: artwork art work by Felipe Baeza.


The Max Mara Art Prize For Women was established by Whitechapel Gallery in collaboration with the Max Mara Fashion Group in 2005, and with the participation of Collezione Maramotti from 2007. Talbot’s work will be exhibited at Whitechapel Gallery, London, on 30 June and at the Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, on 23 October 2022. A short documentary about the artist’s experience during her six-month Italian residency will be released shortly.


Travel tips: For exhibitions and events at Modateca Deanna visit www.modatecadeanna.it/en. The Collezione Maramotti private contemporary art collection of over 200 pieces opened to visitors in 2007, visit www.collezionemaramotti.org. The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Cecilia Alemani, Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art and based in New York, runs from 23 April to 27 November 2022.

Blog header photo: Emma Talbot at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome, 202. Photo: Tiwi.



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