Press Release

Melissa McGill’s Public Art Project Will Choreograph 50 Traditional Venetian Sailboats in a Performative Regatta to Premiere in May 2019 During the 58th Venice Biennale Vernissage

Venice, Italy
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Independent Project Created in Collaboration with more than 250 Venetian Partners, Red Regatta Celebrates Local Maritime Culture and History and Calls Attention to the Fragile Balance Between the City of Venice and the Sea

In May 2019 during the vernissage of the Venice Biennale, artist Melissa McGill will launch Red Regatta, an unprecedented series of large-scale choreographed regattas of traditional vela al terzo sailboats, hoisted with hand-painted red sails, that will activate Venice’s lagoon and waterways. The project unites Venetians and visitors to celebrate the cultural and maritime history of this iconic city to call attention to the forces of climate change and mass tourism that threaten its future. Red Regatta is presented in collaboration with Associazione Vela al Terzo Venezia and more than 250 local partners, led by McGill, curator Chiara Spangaro, and project manager Marcella Ferrari, and is co-organized by Magazzino Italian Art Foundation. Unfolding in multiple parts over the duration of the Biennale, artist-led workshops and public programs developed in collaboration with No Longer Empty  will explore the project’s themes in relation to the traditions that have shaped Venetian life for a millennium. Red Regatta is the first artwork to be registered as a Clean Regatta , a program of Sailors for the Sea that mobilizes sailors to protect the ocean through education and activism.

Red Regatta navigates the delicate and liminal relationship between Venice’s built and natural environments, between land and sea, and between humanity and nature. The project comprises evanescent performances, including four regattas in the Bacino di San Marco of approximately 50 traditional vela al terzo sailboats and a series of smaller regattas sailing in routes mapped by McGill and local sailors. Each performance will be readily visible from vistas throughout the city. A meditation on Venice’s fragile future, Red Regatta invites local citizens and visitors alike to consider the impact of sea level rise and mass tourism in this city that lives and works by water yet is at risk of being overtaken by it.

Venetians have been sailing the vela al terzo boats in the city’s waterways and lagoon for more than a thousand years. Designed with a flat bottom and removable mast to navigate Venice’s unique maritime terrain, vela al terzo boats traditionally hoist sails painted in earthy colors of graphics representing each sailor’s family. In Red Regatta, each boat will have sails hand-painted in distinct shades of red, developed by McGill.

Red Regatta encourages a new appreciation of the interaction of the defining forces of Venice - water, wind, art, and architecture – that both continue to inspire and challenge its residents,” states artist Melissa McGill, “As the sails glide though the lagoon in unison, the distinct reds will visually mix, join, and blend. Against the contrasting sky and sea, the reds reference the forces of life and passion, of alarm and urgency, and Venice itself – from its bricks and terra cotta rooftops, to its flag and history of trade in red pigment, to paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and other Venetian masters.”

Aiming to offer a meaningful and engaging public art experience, Red Regatta involves more than 250 local collaborators, including boat owners, captains, crews, sailmakers, students, and others. Red Regatta is made possible through ongoing partnership with the  Associazione Vela al Terzo Venezia, an organization dedicated to preserving this storied maritime tradition. Members of the association will sail their boats with the red sails throughout the duration of the Biennale, some using vessels passed down through generations and hundreds of years. McGill has also invited art and architecture students from local art schools and universities to collaborate with her on the project, including working alongside her on the process of the painting of the sails.

“We are enthusiastic about the collaboration with Melissa McGill and the Red Regatta team,” says Giorgio Righetti, President of Associazione Vela al Terzo Venezia, “Working together, we hope to share our knowledge of the lagoon and North Adriatic sailing traditions, of wooden boats and the benefit of wind power over motorized motion. We are thrilled to celebrate the legacy of our shipyards and sailmakers, in addition to raising awareness about the environmental issues we face.”

Red Regatta is an astonishingly powerful and timely public artwork that will invite local audiences and visitors alike to investigate and appreciate Venice, its aquatic landscape, its architectural layers, its historical traditions and contemporary context,” says curator Chiara Spangaro, “Red Regatta brings up the urgency of conserving the balance between human scale, city landscape, and natural environment.”

Leading up to May and throughout the run of the Biennale, McGill in collaboration with No Longer Empty will host public open house programs and workshops to bring together both the Venetian community and visitors and spur conversations on project themes in relation to the traditions that have shaped life in Venice for a millennium.

"Red Regatta is a public project born out of the very soul and physical reality of Venice,” comments Manon Slome, Chief Curator of No Longer Empty, a partner in the development of the public programming, “All too often, for visitors, Venice has been but an elegant and fantastical background to the international festivals that take place here.  But Red Regatta, from the start, will involve the residents of the city in the planning and production of the work.  A well-publicized Open House, led by the artist, will introduce the concept to the city while workshops during the run of Red Regatta will ensure that everyone, from local families to international visitors alike, can find a way to engage with the project and the wonders of the city from which it rose"

McGill is a New York-based artist who previously lived in Venice and continues to be engaged with the city. Building upon her social practice, Red Regatta is the artist’s second major project that raises awareness of Venetian life and culture: The Campi, a sound and sculptural work that explores the vitality of the city’s piazzas, was installed during the 57th Biennale in the Carlo Scarpa-designed Casa Studio Scatturin, Ca’ Tron and Giorgio Mastinu Fine Art. The Campi was curated by Chiara Spangaro and sponsored by Magazzino Italian Art Foundation.

Additional details on the artist, project leaders, partners available in the full press release for download at the link below. Additional programs and opportunities to view Red Regatta will be announced.

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Artist Rendering, Melissa McGill, Red Regatta (Coppa del Presidente della Repubblica), 2018

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