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An International Contemporary Mosaic Moshpit: RavennaMosaico 2011

On 31, Oct 2011 | 4 Comments | In Uncategorized | By man-admin

Photo via

What were all of these people celebrating in the streets of Ravenna, Italy on October 8th.  A spectacular tomato harvest?  A strategic soccer win?  The end of Lent?  Actually, it was none of the above.

It was art – contemporary mosaic art – that had thousands swarming in and out of museums, libraries, monuments, studios, galleries and retail shops on Notte d’Oro – the opening night of RavennaMosaico 2011.  Several friends referred to it as the “Mosaic Moshpit.”

RavennaMosaico is an extraordinary, biennial event organized by the International Association of Contemporary Mosaicists (AIMC) and the Comune di Ravenna.  This delightful town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Byzantine mosaic treasures, is claiming the right to be seen as the global nexus for contemporary mosaics – and they are doing a great job of it.

Pixel, 2010 Marianna Brambilla
50 x 47 x 50 cm  Smalti and vintage television casing.
Mosaic Installations at Old Franciscan Cloisters
Photo via RavennaMosaico

There are exhibits, demonstrations, symposiums and lectures on the “state of the art” throughout the city between now and November 20th.  While this is only the second time for the festival, it has already garnered international art press notice.

 Diptyque Stalitte, 2010 Henry-Noel Aubrey (France)
80 x 42 x 2 cm and 80 x 40 x 2 cm.  Marble
Works of the World at Church of San Domenico
Photo via RavennaMosaico

Just last week, the New York Times and International Herald Tribune carried a review/overview of RavennaMosaico by noted Italian arts and culture commentator Roderick Conway Morris; “An Ancient Craft Gets a Bigger World Stage.” (links below)

Manga Medusa, 2005  Helen Bodycomb and Rene Schaefer
50 x 50 cm  Marble and smalti
Works From the World
Photo via RavennaMosaico

On the same day, the Times also referenced a mosaic by Lee Krasner in a review of a new exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.  We are seeing a growing momentum for contemporary mosaics as an art form that is very exciting.

Surface, 2008  Julian Modica
74 x 74 cm Smalti
Works From the World
Photo via RavennaMosaico

Back to the night in question . . . Notte d’Oro was glorious.  It was boisterous.  It was inspirational.  It was claustrophobic.  And we were there – on the third leg of the Mosaic Masterpieces Tour.  While we saw much, and missed a great deal, too, in this post, we’ll hit on four highlights from our time in Ravenna.

Immersion by CaCO3 at The Arian Baptistry
We are going to be up front and say we are partial to the work of CaCO3, the mosaic triumverate comprised of Pavlos Mavromatidis, Aniko Ferreira da Silva and Guiseppe Donnaloia.  The group was selected as one of the eight featured artists in our 2011 Exhibition in Print by Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings.   We were excited to see what they had created as the solo installation for the Arian Baptistry, one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ravenna.  We were not disappointed.

Immersion, 2011  CaCO3
Limestone, aluminium.

It’s a towel.  A marble towel hanging from an aluminum towel rod.

A little history about the Arian Baptistry:  Theodoric the Great commissioned this building in the late 5th Century for the Arians.  Now, the Arians had a very different take on the concept of Christ than did the Catholics of Justinian who eventually wrested Ravenna away from Theodoric.  Arians believed the son was not fully God or part of the Holy Trinity.  They saw him as more human than divine.  Which is what makes the mosaic in this baptistry so special.  This figure of Christ is pale, almost timid.  His genitalia beneath the water is exposed for all to see.  The word “vulnerable” comes to mind immediately.

This is the aspect of the mosaic – Jesus, nude, immersed to the waist in the River Jordan – that CaCO3 chose to focus on in designing for this splendid site.  From the Artists’ Statement:

We (CaCO3) wanted to insert an element into the site which by its nature would interact with the building in two ways; First, materially through the use of mosaic and second, conceptually through a clear connection between our new element and the narrative and purpose of the baptistry and its ancient mosaics.

Our idea was to place inside the baptistry a towel hanging on a metal structure ready to receive the man Jesus – not so very different than any who was in this building to be baptized –  as he emerged from the River Jordan in need of warmth and covering.  We imagined a sheet of white linen whose woof is made apparent through the use of small, individual tesserae of white limestone (CaCO3).

Photos CaCO3

Simple.  Elegant.  Beautiful.  Reverant of the spirit, faith and history of the place in which it resides.  For us, Immersion was one of those art moments where we looked at what is in front of us, thought “Of course” and were silenced with the perfection of it.  So satisfying.  Immersion is the only RavennaMosaico installation to be found in a UNESCO World Heritage site.   We are certain that the Superintendency for Architectural Heritage and Landscape of Ravenna, who gave permission for CaCO3 to execute the project, must be very pleased with the results.

After Notte de Oro, we were fortunate enough to arrange for a private viewing of Immersion and have CaCO3 on hand to talk about the piece, their inspiration and how they work together.  Later, we repaired to a local bar where beer proved to be the perfect antidote to language barriers.

(Left to right)  American mosaic artist/author/teacher Sonia King, British artist/commentator/historian/Exhibition in Print Juror Matthew Collings, British artist/author/teacher/Exhibition in Print Juror Emma Biggs, MAN Editor Nancie Mills Pipgras, and CaCO3
(Left to right) CaCO3, Aniko Ferreira da Silva, Pavlos Mavromitidis and Giuseppe Donnaloia

Bibliomosaico:  Artistic Books in Mosaic Tiles

Pinocchi, (outside) 2011  Verdiano Marzi
Marble, smalti
On Notte d’ Oro, Pavlos Mavromitidis squired us through the crowds to Girasole Publishers, a small shop in Ravenna, where we were able to have a private viewing of Bibliomosaico before it opened to the public.  We were captivated by the exhibit.
Pinocchi (inside)

Sprinkled throughout the clean, well lit shop were small works created by mosaic artists on the theme of books.  Notes from the catalogue:

The BIBLIOMOSAICO exhibition was conceived by Rosetta Berardi in 2009 with the intention of stimulating thought on the form of the book, on the representation of a “book object” which is to be looked at and not read, a book which is not a book but a “book object”, a book which although having lost its content of words has obtained its specific conceptual meaning of an open work.  It is not a book which becomes a work of art but a work of art that becomes or recalls a book.

Some of the pieces here were mini-masterworks that clearly referred to the book as object.  Examples included the mosaics by Verdiano Marzi (above), Toyoharu Kii and Atsuo Suzumura (below).  Like visual flypaper, these mosaics pulled us in for long, lingering studies.

 Toyoharu Kii, 2009
Photo courtesy of Rosetta Berardi
 Atsuo Suzumura
Photo courtesy of Rosetta Berardi
Others, like the work below by Silvia Naddeo, required an investigation of a different sort.

Storria di una Zucchina, 2009 Silvia Naddeo
Photos courtesy George Fishman
At first look, this mosaic made us scratch our heads a bit while trying to find the “book” in it.  Then we looked closer and saw the life of a zucchini artfully captured in the hand hand-painted ceramic discs at the center of each slice.  Of course.

Raniero Bittante’s Bubble Gum Italia was composed of three copies of the Italian constitution encrusted with red, white and green smalti adhered with used wads of the stuff accompanied by a video of Italians blowing bubbles.

This work turned out to be far more literal than we thought at first glance.  Bittante is reflecting on the 150 years of Italy’s political unity in a purely mosaic sense – each individual, regardless of race or ethnicity, is part of the whole – like the tesserae of a mosaic.  Bubble gum as the “mortar” or glue that holds it together?  Of course.  Just think of the DNA contained in a wad of used bubble gum.  Brilliant.  To see the entire video, click here.
International Young Artists and Mosaic Award Exhibition (GAEM) at City Art Museum of Ravenna (MAR)
This exhibit, the only one that is a competition during RavennaMosaico, is devoted to young artists who are pushing the boundaries of mosaic.  A jury comprised of representatives from the City, the City Art Museum and the Center for the International Documentation of Mosaics selected the 10 works shown here.

We had our favorites, like Fall (below) by Sonya Louro Do Rego.

 120 x 80 cm  Seashells and marble.
Andamento, interstice, reflection, relief – all of the classic components of mosaics practiced by the Byzantines are found in this mosaic – but the imagery here is fresh and exciting.  Lunar landscape?  Hide of a sturgeon?  No matter.  The rhythm is enough to carry one away.  Lyrical.
Another favorite was Instinto by Takako Hirai.
This small mosaic holds a secret.  There is a micro-mosaic figure lifting his/her arms towards the “tree” in the center.
Here, there is mosaic story telling and, to our eyes, there might not be a happy ending in these woods.  Through use of color and rough textures Hirai has created a feeling of “menace” within the piece.
Luca Barberini showed his usual mosaic exuberance and sense of humor with Bone Flowers.
 Ana Foncerrada with Bone Flowers, 2011
360 x 125 cm  Smalti on wood
We would venture that the dimensions of this mosaic are no mistake.  Barberini’s skeleton of smalti – the material of Ravenna’s Byzantine masters – appears to be holding up the exhibit space.  We see Barberini saying, “On this glass was Ravenna’s reputation built and things haven’t changed much in the past 1600 years.”
On November 18th, prizes will be awarded to two of the works in this exhibit thanks to the sponsorship of Orsoni Smalti Veneziani (a long-time Friend of MAN) and the Banca Popolare di Ravenna.  We will try to bring you the winners.

Tribute to Ilana Shafir at Classense Library

Israeli artist Ilana Shafir is a contemporary mosaic legend.  We covered this show, the only solo exhibit at RavennaMosaico 2011, in a MAN post this past September.

 Cosmic Collision, 2005  60 x 63 cm
Collection of Laura Gavioli
Photos Giora Shafir
 Ilana Shafir with Cosmic Collision
Photo Lillian Sizemore

It was nothing short of thrilling to be at the opening of the exhibit to see all of the mosaics – and the artist – in person.

Birds In The Garden, 2010  60 x 80 cm
Photos Giora Shafir
Mosaic Art NOW Publisher Michael Welch with Birds in the Garden
Peacocks, 2007  126 x 121 cm


Shining Star, 2010  60 x 80 cm

Like the star that she is, Shafir was the center of all on Notte d’Oro, attracting fond wishes and heartfelt gratitude from everyone.  Including us.

Photo George Fishman

BRAVO!  to AIMC and the Comune di Ravenna for wonderful event.  And to the hundreds of artists who contributed the time, the energy and the art that so enriched and inspired all of us – Grazie.  Mille grazie.

Enjoy –  Nancie

Our sincere thanks to all who contributed photographs to this post.  Where not otherwise noted, photos are by the author.


Ravenna Mosaico 2011 website
AIMC website
An Ancient Craft Gets a Bigger World Stage” New York Times, October 27, 2011
Hewn, Spun, Joined, Sandwiched, Cemented” A review of Crafting Modernism at the Museum of Art and Design  New York Times October 27, 2011
Roderick Conway Morris website
MAR, The Ravenna City Museum website 


Helen Bodycomb website
Henry-Noel Aubry website
Julian Modica website
CaCO3 website
Toyoharu Kii here
Silvia Naddeo website
Ranier Bittante here
Takako Hirai photos
Sonya Louro do Rego website
Luca Barberini website

Previous MAN Posts about the ARTISTS

Ilana Shafir Honored with Solo Exhibition At Ravenna Mosaico 2011 here
Verdiano Marzi: A European Master Teaches in the US here
Luca Barberini:  Bernice Steinbaum’s Exhibition in Print Best in Show  here
CaCO3:  Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings Exhibition in Print here

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  1. Maureen

    Amazing post, Nancie. Thank you for letting us experience a bit of it virtually. It must be a fabulous celebration.

  2. sfmosaic

    Very nice recap of of the event! I feel excited to see the 'mosaic tide' rising, and to have a limestone towel at the ready…

  3. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    Thank you for the kind comments, George. It was so great to be with you there. Pass the prosecco and start saving the shekels for 2013!

  4. George

    You may not have mentioned every one of the outstanding works in this extraordinary event and set of exhibitions, but you certainly got their DNA!
    As you say, congratulations to ALL involved. Hopefully, this achievement will help inspire investment by city and state to maintain the momentum – both for future events and in promoting contemporary mosaic art throughout the year – as you do!
    So glad you gave special notice to CaCo3. Their devotion and talent, creating extraordinarily subtle, but powerful work, came through so eloquently in their conversation.

Luca Barberini Bone FlowersElaine M Goodwin Touching ParadiseJulian Modica SurfaceJulian Modica SurfaceLuca Barberini Bone FlowersLuca Barberini Bone FlowersIlana Shafir Whirl