For the 6th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Mosaic in Ravenna, the MAR (Art Museum of the City of Ravenna) is hosting a work by the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle for the first time.
The project, curated by Giorgia Salerno, in collaboration with Niki Charitable Art Foundation is a tribute to Ravenna’s mosaic tradition through a contemporary interpretation, an approach that has become increasingly established in the museum’s choice of exhibits with the aim of expanding relations with international institutions and cultural foundations.
“Vanitas” is the title of the project that displays a large mosaic sculpture depicting a skull, Tête de Mort I, made by Niki de Saint Phalle in 1988 with mirrored glass tiles and palladium leaf. In the exhibited work, Niki de Saint Phalle debases the drama of death through the sculpture’s large size and, ironically, affirms how the end is surpassed by the continuity of life. The mirrored tiles reflect the observer’s image, forcing a direct comparison with the symbol of life’s end, like a memento mori, while at the same time restoring the multiplicity of human identity. Refractions of personality that recompose themselves to form an overall vision.
The work, specifically chosen for Ravenna, a city of mosaics and mausoleums, clearly refers to the iconography of vanitas and to a theme that is particularly suited to 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 and Dante’s Tomb, are examples of how life, culture and historical testimonies have prevailed over earthly death.
Niki de Saint Phalle tackles the iconography of the skull and recovers the stylistic features of ancient works, not only by choosing the mosaic technique but also by using the reflective power of the mirror, an inevitable reference to Byzantine mosaic art of Ravenna, which is characterized primarily by the poetics of light, thanks to the use of vitreous paste and pure gold tiles. Just as the ancient works transcend towards an otherworldly dimension towards the divine, so Tête de
Mort I moves beyond earthly nature to transmute into eternal life.
In Italy, Niki de Saint Phalle is also famous for her esoteric sculptures at the Tarot Garden in Tuscany.
Exhibition: VANITAS. Niki de Saint Phalle
Where: MAR – Art Museum of the city of Ravenna
When: October 5, 2019 – January 12, 2020
Hours: 9 am-6pm from Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am-7pm Sundays and holidays, closed on Mondays (ticket office closes one hour before museum closing)
Admission: full € 9, reduced € 7, Academy and University students € 5, children up to the age of 14 and all eligible categories