Curated by: Giorgia Salerno
The Municipality of Ravenna in collaboration with the MAR - Museum of Art of the City of Ravenna, as part of the 6th 2019 edition of the Biennial of Contemporary Mosaic, created thanks to the contribution of the Monte di Bologna and Ravenna Foundation, Edison and the Region Emilia-Romagna, with the participation of Niki Charitable Art Foundation, presents a work by the Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, in Ravenna for the first time.
A project curated by Giorgia Salerno, a tribute to the Ravenna mosaic tradition through a contemporary reading, a line that is increasingly consolidated in the museum's exhibition choices and with the aim of expanding relations with international cultural institutions and foundations.
"Vanitas" is the title chosen for the project that exhibits a large mosaic sculpture depicting a skull, created by Niki de Sai nt Phalle in 1988 with mirrored glass tiles and palladium leaves, while she is engaged in the creation of the sculptures for the Tarot Garden in Garavicchio, in Tuscany. One of a kind esoteric artistic park, the Tarot Garden, was opened to the public in 1998 after almost twenty years from the beginning of the artist's self-financed works, and exhibits twenty-two cyclopean works in steel and concrete, decorated entirely in mosaic with mirrors, glass and ceramic and dedicated to the symbols of the tarot.
Niki de Saint Phalle, cultured and nonconformist woman, exponent of the Nouveau Réalisme, has dedicated her artistic research mainly to the female figure, contrasting stereotypes on gender difference and affirming creative freedom through painting, sculpture and cinema. Examples are her Nanas , monumental sculptures of sinuous and colorful women that she has created since 1965, questioning the concept of birth and rebirth, her personal contribution to female liberation (in the same year in France a law opens up the possibility for women to work without spouse's permission).
In the work exhibited at MAR, Tête de Mort I , Niki de Saint Phalle, debases the drama of death through the large dimensions of the sculpture and, ironically, affirms the overcoming of the end with the continuity of life. The mirrored tiles reflect the image of the observer, forcing a direct comparison, like memento mori , with the symbol of the end, and at the same time restore the multiplicity of human identity. Refractions of personality that is recomposed in an overall view.
The work chosen, not by chance for Ravenna city of mosaics and mausoleums, clearly refers to the iconography of the vanitas and to a particularly connotative theme for the territory, that of the victory of eternal life over death.
The city's funerary monuments, such as the mausoleum of Theodoric, that of Galla Placidia, the funeral sculpture of Guidarello Guidarelli up to Dante's tomb, are examples of how life, culture and historical evidence prevailed over earthly death.
Niki de Saint Phalle tackles the iconography of the skull and takes up the stylistic features of the ancient representations by choosing not only the mosaic technique but using the reflecting power of the mirror, an inevitable reference to the Byzantine-Ravenna mosaic art, which is characterized primarily by the lyric of light, thanks to the use of tesserae in glass paste and pure gold, transcending towards an otherworldly dimension (towards the divine), just as Tête de Mort I goes beyond earthly nature to transform itself into eternal life.