Curated by Giorgia Salerno
For the 6th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Mosaic in Ravenna, the MAR is, for the first time in Ravenna, hosting a work by the Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The project, curated by Giorgia Salerno, is a tribute to the 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, made by Niki de Saint Phalle in 1988 with mirrored glass tiles and palladium leaves.
In the exhibited work, Tête de Mort I, Niki de Saint Phalle debases the drama of death through the sculpture’s large size and, ironically, affirms the overcoming of the end with 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 through to 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.
Niki de Saint Phalle, Tête de mort I, 1988, ©NIKI CHARITABLE ART FOUNDATION. All rights reserved. Collection Niki Charitable Art Foundation, Santee