Melissa McGill – Red Regatta

Red Regatta was an independent public art project created by artist Melissa McGill that activated Venice’s lagoon and canals with four large-scale regattas of traditional vela al terzo sailboats hoisted with hand-painted red sails in 2019. Presented in collaboration with Associazione Vela al Terzo, curated by Chiara Spangaro, with project manager Marcella Ferrari, the project was co-organized by Magazzino Italian Art, with support from Mazzoleni, along with more than 250 local partners.


Launching during the inaugural week of the 58th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia in May 2019 and the opening event of the Regata Storica in September 2019, a choreographed series of four large-scale regattas crossed Venice’s lagoon. This unprecedented public artwork celebrated the city’s maritime history and called attention to the forces of climate change and mass tourism that threaten its future. Unfolding in multiple parts, Red Regatta, filled Venice’s waterways with 52 traditional vela al terzo sailboats, hoisted with hand-painted red sails.

The project brought together over 250 members of the Venetian community and partners who worked closely with the artist, ranging from local sailors to artisans and art students, to present an unprecedented, site-specific performative work, that raises awareness about the fragile balance between the city of Venice and the sea.

Melissa McGill, b. 1969
Red Regatta (Coppa del Presidente della Repubblica), 2019
Archival pigment print, pigment and matte gel medium
142.2 x 213.4 cm - - 56 x 84 in
Melissa McGill, b. 1969
Riflessi (Red Regatta - 1 September 2019) - 6, 2019
Archival pigment print
91.4 x 137.2 cm - - 36 x 54 in
Melissa McGill, b. 1969
52 Reds for Red Regatta, 2019
Hand-painted sailcloth swatches mounted on acid-free paper
76.2 x 106.68 cm - - 30 x 42 in
Melissa McGill, b. 1969
Riflessi (Red Regatta - 1 September 2019), 2019
Triptych of digital archival pigment prints
137.2 x 91.4 cm (each) - - 54 x 36 in (each)

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 colours of graphics representing each sailor’s family. In Red Regatta, each boat has custom sails hand-painted in distinct shades of red, developed by McGill.
As the sails glided though the lagoon in unison, the distinct reds visually mixed, joining and blending. Against the contrasting sky and sea, the reds reference the forces of life and passion, of alarm and urgency, and of Venice itself – from its bricks and terra cotta rooftops, to its flag and trade history in red pigment, to paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and other masters of the Veneto tradition.

Terrazza Floor in Carlo Scarpa's Negozio Olivetti, Venice

Each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost  the same proportions as sea water. This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years ago, when a remote ancestor, having progressed from one-celled to the many-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea …

Rachel Carson – The Sea Around us, New York, 1989

Film still from ‘Red-Regatta-Venice-2019. © Melissa McGill, Mazzoleni, London-Torino. Video by Giovanni Pellegrini.


In conjunction with the regattas, artist-led workshops and public programs, developed in collaboration with partners, explored the project’s themes in relation to the traditions that have shaped Venetian life for a millennium.
Red Regatta was awarded gold levels certification as a Clean Regatta, a program of Sailors for the Sea that mobilizes sailors to protect the ocean through education and activism.

The project navigated the delicate and liminal relationship between Venice’s built and natural environments. Relationships between land and sea, between humanity and nature, Red Regatta offered a contemporary perspective, bringing attention to the fragile relationship between city and water which is fundamental for the future of Venice and its community. Red Regatta’s positive impacts are on-going, with new environmental collaborations emerging from Red Regatta’s initiatives and collaborations. The project continues to be a symbol of hope, inspiration, unity and pride in the city.

On June 2021, the book Melissa McGill. Red Regatta, edited by Marsilio, was presented to the public. The volume of 200 pages and 250 colour photographs was designed by the graphic designer Beatriz Cifuentes of New York studio Waterhouse Cifuentes, in close collaboration with the artist.


Melissa McGill

Melissa McGill (b. Rhode Island, 1969. She lives and works in Beacon, New York) has presented both independent public art projects and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally since 1991. She is known for collaborative, ambitious site-specific public art projects and a vibrant studio practice. Her projects are site-specific, immersive experiences that explore nuanced conversations between land, water, sustainable traditions, and the interconnectedness of all living beings. At the heart of her work is a focus on community, meaningful shared experiences and lasting positive impact. Spanning a variety of media including performance, photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, sound, light, video and immersive installation
In 2015 she presented Constellation, an independent  large-scale sculptural project installed around the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island in the section of the Hudson River that passes through Hudson Highlands State Park. Every evening, as the sun went down, starry lights emerged one by one with the stars of the night sky, creating a new constellation and connecting past and present, light and dark, heaven and earth. Constellation references a belief of the Lenape, the indigenous people of this area, of Opi Temakan, the “White Road” or “Milky Way” connecting our world with the next. Hovering around the perimeter of the Bannerman castle ruin, these lighted points referred to features of the structure still standing, as well as those details which no longer exist—creating a new constellation connecting past and present—and bringing new energy and perspectives to this majestic part of the Hudson River. The project was on view through October 2017.

In the Waves, 2021, was a series of live free public art performances activating the landscape and evoking the urgency of rising sea levels and a rapidly changing climate. The project was curated by Dodie Kazanjian and presented with Art&Newport. The artist invited members of the local community to join the ensemble of this inclusive movement-based public artwork to create a shared meaningful experience about urgent environmental themes.  She painted 50 “wave paintings”, ranging from 25′-45′ long on site, observing the ocean each day and changes in light and weather on a textile made of ocean recycled plastic trash. These painting were then activated by the In the Waves ensemble in performances with the ensemble, led by the artist in collaboration with choreographer Davalois Fearon.
McGill lived in Venice from 1991-93 and returns regularly for inspiration and work. In 2019, she presented her seminal work Red Regatta in collaboration with the Associazione Vela al Terzo Venezia. Red Regatta was an independent public art project that activated Venice’s lagoon and canals with four large-scale regattas of traditional vela al terzo sailboats hoisted with hand-painted red sails in 2019. As the boats glided though the lagoon in unison against the sky, sea, and cityscape, the reds reference forces of life and passion, 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.
Red Regatta was inspired by her observations over more than two decades of the challenges Venice is facing given the impact of climate change and overtourism. Melissa’s intimate knowledge of Venice and her deep personal and professional relationships in the city made it possible for her to develop this ambitious project. She is particularly passionate about the collaborative aspect and the fact that Red Regatta involved over 250 Venetian partners, as well as the United Nations Permanent Mission of Italy, The Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Oceana/Sailors for the Sea, Ocean Space, Spazio Thetis and many others . The project was curated by Chiara Spangaro, with project manager Marcella Ferrari, and co-organized by Magazzino Italian Art, with support from Mazzoleni.Other projects still related to the city of Venice are: the sculptural sound work, The Campi (2017) that invoked daily life in the Venetian Campo and was presented at Carlo Scarpa’s Casa/Studio Scatturin, Università Iuav di Venezia and Giorgio Mastinu Fine Art in Venice, Italy.
In 2022 she started Lifeline, a water storytelling project in which the Po River, Italy’s longest river, is our ancestral narrator. The Po’s network of braided channels, like lifelines, inspires this weaving together of the river’s story in its own voice with those of its local community, with specific attention given to underrepresented female stories. They flow together in strength, beauty and wisdom in order to envision and enact the river’s regeneration.
Melissa McGill and a team of local collaborators are embarking on a story-gathering journey that will be presented in chapters, taking the form of a film project, an artist book, artworks and an experiential collaborative public art work.
In 2021 McGill started a new body of expressive paintings of water and waves. These works explore ways to describe the world on its own terms, showing how the water inside us speaks to the water surrounding us. The calligraphic evidence in nature reminds us how our primordial mode of being is without “edges,” without definite separateness between things, but exists in a non-linear, circular time that pervades the planet. The artist makes her own paint using organic indigo and chlorophyllin derived from mulberry tree leaves,  mixed  a fresh homemade protein rich soy milk binder. The works explore the language of water in a way that is simultaneously intimate and epic.
McGill has exhibited her artworks nationally and internationally since 1991, including solo and groups exhibitions such as: Canaletto and Melissa McGill: Performance and Panorama, The Lightbox, United Kingdom; Manitoga, Garrison, New York; Mazzoleni, London – Torino; Magazzino Italian Art, Cold Spring (NY); The Permanent Mission of Italy at the United Nations, New York; Totah, New York; White Cube, London; Power House, Memphis; Palazzo Capello, Venice; CRG Gallery, New York, Zabludowicz Collection, London; Norrtalje Konsthall, Norrtalje (Sweden); Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent (Belgium).
Melissa McGill is a National Endowment of the Arts ArtWorks Grant recipient.