Modern and contemporary mosaics
Unique in the world, the collection traces the development of the mosaic technique from the national and international experiences in Ravenna of the second decade of the 20th century to date. It includes more than 90 works divided between the exhibition spaces of the ground floor and the quadriportico of the museum. The renovation works were carried out with the valuable support of the Emilia-Romagna Region, the Program POR FESR Emilia-Romagna 2014/2020 - Asse 6 - Action 2.3.1. "Attractive and Participatory Cities", and The Rotary Club of Ravenna.
The exhibition unfolds through four thematic sections: 1959 Exhibition of Modern Mosaics, Mosaic and Design, and Contemporary Declinations.
The exhibition opens with the works created for the Exhibition of Modern Mosaics, which was inaugurated in 1959 and symbolized a pivotal moment in the renewal of mosaic art. This section constitutes the core and the basis of the entire collection. The project was born within the Gruppo Mosaicisti (Group of Mosaicists) of the Academy of Ravenna and then promoted by Giuseppe Bovini, who intended to put the mosaic technique at the service of contemporary art. The project was subsequently sponsored by the Rotary Club, the Ravenna Chamber of Commerce, the Autonomous Agency for Hospitality and Tourism, and the Provincial Tourist Board.
Some of the leading figures of the artistic scene were asked to create the preparatory sketches to be translated into mosaics. For most of the works, the collection includes both the preparatory sketch and the mosaic work, allowing for a fascinating comparison between two different forms of the same artistic idea. The project included the collaboration between the mosaicists of Ravenna and twenty renowned artists selected by the artistic committee. The artists were asked to send a preparatory painting – the so-called “cartoon” – that was meant to be translated into mosaic work.
The artistic committee involved art historians, such as Giulio Carlo Argan e Palma Bucarelli. Starting from 1951, Bovini personally contacted the selected artists that included: Afro, Birolli, Cagli, Campigli, Capogrossi, Cassinari, Chagall, Corpora, Deluigi, Gentilini, Guttuso, Mathieu, Mirko, Moreni, Paulucci, Reggiani, Saetti, Sandqvist, Santomaso, and Vedova. Henri Matisse also agreed to participate in the initiative but failed to finish the project due to his sudden death in 1954.
The project did not aim to create an exhibition of the mosaic panels but sought to demonstrate the relevance of the mosaics through a close collaboration between the artists capable of reviving the ancient distinction between pictores imaginarii, who designed the image, and pictores musivarii, who completed its mosaic realization.
The 1959 exhibition, in addition to using mosaic as a means of modern artistic expression, was of paramount importance for the evolution of the very idea of mosaic. It triggered phenomena and approaches aimed at the emancipation of the preparatory sketches from the mosaic “tradition” and at the perception of the mosaic as an autonomous work subject exclusively to its own intrinsic potential. The mosaics of this section belong to the Province of Ravenna, the Ferrara and Ravenna Chambers of Commerce, and the Rotary Club of Ravenna, and in 2007 they were granted on loan to MAR.
The second section of the exhibition examines the theme of Mosaic and Design: the showcased works were designed by the Studio Alchimia of Milan (1976-1992), established by the siblings Adriana and Alessandro Guerriero, around which gravitated the designers, architects, and artists that made the history of Italian design.
The current exhibition replicates the artistic experience of the Studio Alchimia, which focused on the return of the educated and noble craftsmanship, as can be observed in the Ritratto di Mendini (Portrait of Mendini), la Testa di Guerriero (Head of Guerriero) e il Mobile aulico (Aulic Furniture). The project realization was entrusted to Associazione Mosaicisti (Association of Mosaicicsts) of Ravenna in collaboration with the Cooperativa Mosaicisti (Mosaicists’ Cooperative) of Ravenna and Studio Signorini.
The exhibition continues with the last section dedicated to the Contemporary Declinations, which traces the development of a new phase of research from the seventies, where mosaicists free themselves completely from the role of the executioners. Ravenna represents the heart of such a shift.
The need to build on the cultural roots of the splendor of the capital of the Byzantine Empire leads to the desire to chart a new way to experiment with new connections. The artists begin to abandon set patterns in the creation of their mosaic works, overcoming the comparison with the past while following in the footsteps of an extraordinary cultural heritage.
The mosaic is no longer created exclusively with tesserae but is made up also through pictorial and sculptural techniques and the frequent use of original and varied materials. This gives way to collaborations with international artists, such as Valerio Adami, Michelangelo Antonioni, Balthus, Giosetta Fioroni, Piero Gilardi, Luigi Ontani, and Mimmo Paladino, and experiments with mosaicists of Ravenna. The mosaic interpretations housed in MAR are a result of various cultural sedimentations. The mosaic frees itself from its more traditional characteristics to fully interpret contemporaneity and narrate the stylistic and conceptual evolution that cannot be separated from the transformation of the role of the artist-mosaicist.
The collection traces how the last decades pushed mosaicists to increasingly design and create works of their own conception to confront various themes, instruments, materials, and challenges of our times, free to follow their styles and offer more personal and diverse solutions, from figurative to abstract, from pop to arte povera, and up to the postmodern appropriation.