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The Layers of Meaning in Maria Molteni’s Venusian Rosaceae

Venusian Rosaceae (Five Seeded Star) by Boston-based artist Maria Molteni is the site-specific, astral mural seen at the northeast corner of the Momentary’s grounds. While the bright colors and patterns might appear to be abstract, there are several layers of meaning embedded in this 50-foot mural, including the 2020 Venus retrograde, the Momentary’s site history as an apple orchard, and the birth of a new baby.

The Momentary reached out to Molteni to commission an original artwork in May 2020—the middle of a period that astrologers and astronomers observe as Venus retrograde. In short, this means that the speed and trajectory of both Earth and Venus’s orbits were such that Venus appears to be moving backward, as when a bus on the highway passes another and passengers on the slower bus seem to be moving backward. When Venus appears to move backward, astrologers encourage a review of our values and their effect on society around us.

During this time of retrograde, the Black Lives Matter movement resurged and encouraged many around the country (and the world) to reflect on their part in this shift of power. In fellow artist Agnes Martin’s writings, Molteni found a twinkling reflection:

Nature is the wheel

When you get off the wheel you’re looking out

You Stand with your back to the turmoil

Molteni asked themselves, “Can’t I do both? Look toward the center and out into space? Don’t we have to do both?” From there, she began the painting process along with artist assistant Randi Shandroski. Wheel-shaped and radiating with bright color, this piece reflects the position of the cosmos at the time of installation.

Maria Molteni, Venusian Rosaceae (Five Seeded Star), 2020.

The circular shape of Venusian Rosaceae (Five Seeded Star) also reflects the Dance of Venus, an astrological map of Venus retrogrades. But that’s not all. Look closer and you’ll find that the Momentary’s history has also been included in the mural. The grounds of the Momentary used to be an apple orchard. In the spirit of that history, many of the colors, shapes, and symbols in Molteni’s mural are also associated with apples. If you bisect an apple, the bands and seeds within almost perfectly reflect the five-pointed path that Venus takes when orbiting the sun.

While painting this work, Molteni’s sister went into labor and had a baby named Rose. The Rose family of plants not only comprises of the thorny blooms (and now, a not-so-thorny baby) but the rosy apples that used to grow on the very ground the mural now lays on.

This cross-sectionalism of ideas and visuals is seen across Molteni’s practice. According to her bio, “she seeks to interrupt binary thinking, crossing otherwise siloed communities and research.” Combining the Momentary’s history, our current collective moment in history, and a bit of the artist’s personal history into one mural is a testament to the space’s focus on art that is “in the moment” and reflective of our times.

The video below shows how Venusian Rosaceae (Five Seeded Star) brings these symbols to life as people engage with the work. Molteni, along with Tiago Santo, developed the video of the pair traversing the ropes and lines found on the mural, paired with original music composed by Reed Wilson. According to Molteni, “Reed utilized the frequencies of the planet Venus and apple blossoms (221.23hz and 639.4hz respectively) along with guitar, synthesizer, and singing bowls, to evoke the mood of working on and experiencing the piece.” In walking the braided bands that swirl on the surface of the mural, you can take the same celestial path that Venus takes, albeit much more earthbound.

So now, a suggestion. If you find yourself feeling small and human, firstly know that you have plenty of company. Then, perhaps to feel a little more otherworldly, start to take a walk on the bright, braided bands. You’re there with the artist, the apple orchard, baby Rose, and the planet Venus overhead.


This post was written by Carson Keith, visiting artist liaison, the Momentary.