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María Berrío (born 1982) is a Colombian-born visual artist working in Brooklyn, New York. She was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and spent much of her childhood living on her family’s mountainside farm where she developed a unique and lasting connection to nature. At eighteen Berrío relocated to New York and received her BFA at Parsons School of Design in 2004, followed by her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in 2007.

Largely, she uses paper like paint, laying down narrow, tapering strips to contour a body, or tiny flakes to make an intricate floral print. The overall effect is both insanely detailed and naively flat. The surfaces look faceted, almost jewel-like, reminiscent of the dazzling patterns of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The pictures are literally patchworks, assembled from bits and pieces. They feel of this world but also improbable, as if held together by magic.

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The Dream of Flight, 2019

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East of the Sun, West of the Moon, 2016

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Cricket Song, 2019

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The Ishtar Gate of Babylon, reconstructed in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin
Molded and glazed brick
Neo-Babylonian, reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BCE)

From Nebuchadnezzar’s inscription:

“With the filling of Babylon’s street, both the city walls’ entrances (at the Ishtar Gate) became increasingly low. I cleared away those gates; and I laid their foundations opposite the water with bitumen and baked bricks, and I had them artfully made with shining lapis lazuli baked bricks on which wild bulls and mušhuššu dragons were created. Mighty cedars I spread for their roofing. I installed door leaves of cedar wood covered in bronze and thresholds and door jambs made of copper into its gates. Fierce wild bulls of copper and raging mušhuššu dragons I set at their thresholds. I filled those gates with splendor for the wonder of all people.”

(translation from the exhibition catalogue A Wonder to Behold: Craftsmanship and the Creation of Babylon’s Ishtar Gate, edited by Anastasia Amrhein, Clare Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Knott, 2019)

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So basically I study the material and visual culture of the 15th century (I also have taken classes on other periods of course but my focus is Renaissance Italy) – paintings, sculptures, drawings, architecture, etc., but also gardens/landscape design, design for pageantry (parades, religious or secular ceremony).  I personally am more interested in the context of the works and their meaning in that context – that is, I enjoy researching the background of the work rather than analyzing its visual composition (though that’s important too, of course).  I’m very interested in the intended uses of works when they were commissioned by specific patrons – most works of art that we have in museums were originally somewhere else and had a specific use that isn’t implicit when you look at it taken from its original setting.

Art history can seem like a very inaccessible field because it’s often made out to be very pretentious or removed from modern life but I think studying the lives of these people and how the works of art they owned or commissioned or created makes them more relatable to us.  It makes the 15th century feel so present, even though it was literally 500 years ago!

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