Ceramics That Change: Post-War Ceramic Sculpture in Italy

By Giovannini, Rolando; Touchette, Lori-Ann | Ceramics Art & Perception, March-May 2016 | Go to article overview

Ceramics That Change: Post-War Ceramic Sculpture in Italy


Giovannini, Rolando, Touchette, Lori-Ann, Ceramics Art & Perception


IF THE CURRENT CRY IS 'CERAMICS IS EVERYWHERE', ITALY can now be safely added to the equation. There is a new interest in ceramic sculpture that is expanding beyond the confines of the traditional venues for ceramics exhibitions such as the MIC (International Museum of Ceramics) in Faenza. It now includes the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome (GNAM), where 180 pieces by more than 60 artists were brought together in a survey of Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture in Italy (11 March to 7 June 2015), and the solo exhibition dedicated to Giuseppe Ducrot (20 February to 10 May 2015) at Rome's Macro Testaccio. Even the historic Roman gallery L'Attico of Sargentini hosted an exhibition (27 February to 25 March 2015) that juxtaposed the ceramic sculptures of Leoncillo in this centenary of his birth with works by some of the most well-known of international artists.

From 28 June 2014 to 1 February 2015, the MIC of Faenza presented its show entitled Ceramics That Change: Post-War sculpture in Italy, From Fontana to Leoncillo, From Melotti to Ontani (La Ceramico che Cambia). Extending from the post-war period to the early 21st century with 120 works by 80 artists, the exhibition was divided into five sections: Martini and Figurative Expression, Picassism and Neocubism, Informal Art and its Variations, Abstract Dimension, Different Paths. Of the 80 artists, a wide range of Italian and some foreign artists were represented, several with works in more than one section. The exhibition was a juxtaposition of artists of international fame such as Fontana and Paladino with artists better known on the national level (Leoncillo, Matta, Fioroni, Spagnulo, G B Valentini) and finally those recognised on the regional or local stage. The majority of the works (70) came from the storerooms of the MIC (a rich collection of ceramic works documenting the winners of the Premio Faenza and Italian artists); 50 additional works came from museums and private collections.

The ceramics tradition in Italy has often posed a limit to artistic expression, caught in the stranglehold of the centuries-old debate on the relationship between artisanship and fine art, where the choice of the ceramics medium signified the paramount importance of technique. Arturo Martini addressed this issue head on in La scultura lingua morta of 1945: "statuary is dead, but sculpture is alive." As the curator of the exhibition, Claudia Casali notes "in art criticism, a considerable difficulty persists in confronting ceramic sculpture, for decades limited by an obtuse hierarchy of different media." Perhaps the only way to liberate ceramics from the tyranny of technique is to divorce the artist from the material, celebrating conceptual artists, what Garth Clark has termed 'visitors' to clay.

Opening with several works by Martini, all present in the recent exhibitions in Bologna and Faenza (reviewed in Ceramics: Art and Perception 98, pp 20-23), the first section of the exhibition was focused on figurative sculpture, from artists of the 1950s to contemporary artists such as Paladino and Ontani. A wide range of artistic styles was represented, from the political expressionism of Sassu to the surrealism of Sebastian Matta, both painters who experimented in ceramics. At Faenza, Biancini (Premio Faenza 1946, 1957) in contrast was primarily a ceramist and had a major influence on the development of Italian ceramic arts. The Sicilian ceramics artist Cipolla produced works strongly influenced by archaism whereas the ironic works of Mariam (Premio Faenza 1980) represent a renewal of figurative language with surrealist solutions. A series of internationally renowned artists realise their works at the Bottega Gatti in Faenza. Paladino, one of the founding members of the Transavanguardia, dedicated significant periods to ceramics, creating narrative symbolic works with an emphasis on material. Goisetta Fioroni's brightly-coloured visionary works, often theatre sets, are Pop in style. …

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