Guglielmo Zanette spent the week installing mosaic portraits at The Avalon Hotel in South Beach.
He places each with care, Italian American icons depicted in pieces of glass, the glazes all produced in Venice and Murano, Italy, in a range of more than 5,000 colors.
"I believe that Miamians will love these mosaic portraits, not only for the artistic quality that make them an absolute excellence in the world of contemporary art, but also for the use of materials produced with an ancient Italian craftmanship," he says.
Some of the 14 portraits, which will be on display beginning Oct. 1 through Nov. 6 in the restaurant of the Avalon Hotel, A Fish Called Avalon, tribute Italian American personalities who have ties to South Florida. Most notably is one of the most famous South Beach residents, fashion designer Gianni Versace. Versace, lived and died, just four blocks from the Avalon.
Also depicted is Luciano Pavarotti, who made his operatic debut in Miami alongside Joan Sutherland in Florida Grand Opera’s 1965 production of "Lucia di Lammermoor," and who also had a home on Fisher Island. In "Scarface," starring Al Pacino, Miami Beach’s Art Deco District – and the Avalon – served as the backdrop in scenes from the film. There's Frank Sinatra, whose Rat Pack’s frolics on Miami Beach helped to put the Fontainebleau on the world map, and Italian actress Sophia Loren who did and may still have a home on Williams Island.
"I chose the characters I loved most in my career," Zanette says, "like Martin Scorsese and Pacino, and singers like Sinatra and Lady Gaga. I also felt it was my duty to pay homage to Pavarotti who has performed many times in the United States and in particular here in Miami, warming the hearts of many people with his incredible humanity."
Adding to those already mentioned will be depictions of Bradley Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Alicia Keys, John Turturro, Monica Belluci, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kobe Bryant.
"The portrait of Kobe Bryant was created immediately after his tragic death, to pay tribute to a great champion who trained in Italy as a sportsman. Perhaps not everyone knows that Kobe, as a young boy, lived for 7 years in the south of Italy. He spoke Italian very well and wanted to honor our country he loved by calling his daughters with Italian names. So, he too is a bit of an upside-down Italian American," Zanette explains.
Zanette is the artistic director of the Naonis Cultural Association, a training ground for young artists from the Fruili Venezia Giula, a northeastern Italy region that borders Austria to the north, Slovenia to the east, the Adriatic Sea to the south and the Veneto region to the west.
"My role within the cultural association of the artistic director brings with it the moral task of promoting the talent of young artists from my Friuli Venezia Giulia region, both in the field of mosaics and in the world of cinema and audiovisuals," he says.
In the past, he had worked for the association as a director and producer of medium-length films that, he says, have won awards in Italy and Los Angeles.
"Now that I have combined my passion for cinema and mosaic, I am proud to be able to present these two collections of portraits dedicated to the icons of entertainment on behalf of the association."
The collection of mosaic portraits which is titled, "Italian American Icons," is an original creation of Zanette's, of which he says he holds all the rights.
"I personally chose all the portraits proposed, which were made in collaboration with several young artists who have distinguished themselves over the years through the Mosaic Young Talent Competition."
The portraits were created by artists at the Scuola Mosaicisti Del Friuli, which Zanette calls the "most important international center for instruction in the art of mosaics. Its students come from all over the world to take part in an educational process which has rejuvenated and given a contemporary and modern perspective to this very special art form."
Zanette says he has collaborated with the school for many years for interior design works in his career as an architect.
"I realized the great potential of this reality and in 2016, I proposed to the director of the school the competition I created for the graduating young mosaicists in the third year of studies if they were interested to get involved."
The theme of the competition, he explains, was "The Face as Emotion."
The format was small, 12x12 inches, the same for all students, in order to be able to create an exhibition that could be easy to install and travel, he says.
In 2019, he completed the first collection, "50 Faces," which Naonis presented in California.
However, this is only the second time the exhibition "Italian American Icons" will be presented in the United States. The debut was in 2021 at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, Calif.
Each of the portraits takes about three months to create, according to Zanette, using 200 to 300 individually cut pieces of glass, along with stone, plastic wood and cloth.
He says the beginning of the creation starts from a base of a photo or sketch and then materials are selected to compose the mosaic. ". . . Usually a mixture of polychrome marble is used for the portrait face, as the marble has shades of colors similar to the complexion of our faces. For the other details, Venetian enamels, ceramics, or modern metal or fabric inserts are used. Then the lines are drawn in pencil, the so-called 'trend' on which the individual tiles are placed one by one with a special glue. Each tile is hand cut with a special cutting hammer. It is a very long and complex job."
He says the exhibition came about after he met miamiartzine.com publisher Harvey J. Burstein at a show at the Wolfsonian Museum.
"I showed him a catalog of mosaic portraits and he immediately thought they were exceptional and that we absolutely had to exhibit them here in Miami. Then he asked me to bring a catalog to the Avalon Hotel, and the owner Tom Glassie appreciated the art. He strongly wanted us in his hotel, and here we are to inaugurate the second Italian American icons exhibition, here in the United States," Zanette says.
What does he hope viewers who see the mosaics as they pass through the Avalon Hotel or make a special point to come and see the exhibit take away from the experience?
"I believe that this collection can make us reflect on how important the contribution of our immigrants to American society has been in many fields," he says. "I hope that visitors will be impressed by the depth of the gaze of the portrayed characters. Through these eyes, it is possible to perceive an inner world, often dramatic or conflictual, which has led the artists to express themselves in such an intense and brilliant way. Restoring the most authentic emotion of their lives is one of the objectives of this new mosaic art that we could define as 'multimedia mosaics' . . . granting them an importance and authority that only mosaics can give."
"When you look into the eyes of these icons of art, you can really connect with their soul and their life, which is often full of suffering, joy and different emotions, like ours. In the portraits, you will experience that the eyes are very much alive. They talk to you. Maybe through them, you can even find a connection with your own soul."
The Italian American Icons exhibition is on display from Oct. 1 through Nov. 6 at A Fish Called Avalon inside the Avalon Hotel, 700 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Open 7 days a week, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. If making a dinner reservation at A Fish Called Avalon for a party of four or more, guests are invited to ask if Mr. Zanette would be available to meet with them to provide details about the process and the individual artists. Reservations at (305) 532-1727 and information at www.afishcalledavalon.com