Stockholm’s gallery Artipelag pays homage to the eclectic oeuvre of Surrealist Italian designer Fornasetti.
Sweden’s newest art mecca Artipelag in collaboration with Italian brand Fornesetti is currently showcasing the works of Surrealist Italian designer Piero Fornasetti through a six month long exhibition. Situated alongside the beautiful Stockholm Archipelago, Artipelag is a melting pot that brings together art shows, cultural activities, architecture, music, events, Swedish design, and good food.
This would be Sweden’s first ever exhibition of the famous mid -20th Century artist that would spotlight Fornasetti’s entire work spanning his lifetime as well as contemporary works made by his son Barnaba Fornasetti. Set against the striking architecture of Artipelag, the exhibition unveils the multifaceted oeuvre of the Italian doyenne Piero Fornasetti’s work, from paintings and graphic art to furniture, design objects and installations.
Titled Inside Out Outside In, the showcase commemorates Fornesetti’ inexhaustible flow of creativity and his technical proficiency to execute his surrealist work. This exhibition chronicles his journey through his witty yet playful pieces, juxtaposing the visual dynamics of his intricate and often surreal illustrations covering the surfaces of furniture, tableware, and textiles.
Unlike many of his modernist contemporaries, Fornasetti has primarily focused on surface design and hence he didn’t conform to a movement or era, which is why often Fornasetti is left out from mentions of pivotal figures shaping 20th century design. Though considered by many an outsider on the art scene, his eclectic underpinnings now are considered visionary and were even then much ahead of its time. Even in the mid-20th century, his design and concepts went against the grain of the mainstream trends. Born in Milan, he represented the duality of Milan – the historical and modern shades – through his creative work.
Throughout his lifetime, he displayed effortless versatility that spanned all artistic disciplines comprising of painting, lithography, graphic design and furniture design.
During his period of exile in Switzerland, Fornasetti focused on sketching which resulted in wonderful series of black and white self-portraits.
During the 1950s, together with eminent Italian architect Giovanni Ponti, Fornasetti created innumerable furniture items, which were designed by Ponti and decorated by Fornasetti. Later, their collaboration evolved in full-scale interior design assignments like the Casino San Remo and the cruise ship, Andrea Doria.
Fornasetti’s boundless creativity led to the development of his trademark iconography, while he worked around imagery of sun, butterflies, fish, playing cards, hot air balloons, and architectural features among many other motifs. He often reinterpreted his iconic motifs with endless permutations and Fornasetti’s most famous motif till date has been Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri’s classical face. Captivated by her beautiful features, Cavalieri became the face that literally launched several of Fornasetti’s iconic illustrations.
The alluring face was endlessly reinterpreted through whimsical graphics and at times also in its formal glory. Cavalieri became his artistic muse that led to almost 400 different interpretations under the series called Tema e Variazioni (Themes and Variations). A touch of quirk in the re-imaginations of the classical beauty on plates, vases and furniture became synonymous with the company. The Inside Out Outside In exhibition clearly conveys the pivotal contribution of this series in the making of the Fornasetti brand.
The company went through a brief slump during 1970s when modernism focused on austere forms and lines, however the post-modernist movement’s focus on decoration and storytelling brought Fornasetti’s contribution to the forefront. At the request of Fornasetti, his artist son, Barnaba Fornasetti, took over the reins of the company in 1982. Barnaba further continued to develop his father’s iconography and decorative lithographs, and after Piero’s death in 1988, Barnaba took over the creative responsibility of the brand.
The mid-20th century Surrealist designer producing a mammoth number of products – slightly over 11,000 – testifies to both his popularity and to his limitless imagination. Fornasetti’s works endured passing design trends, while he refused to conform to popular ideologies, and hence his legacy would always remain timeless. Speaking about successful trends Fornasetti in the past quoted, “An artist who wants to be successful is no longer an artist. If he conforms to fashion, he will arrive late because by now everyone has already conformed. Therefore, perhaps, the idea is not to conform but to be original.”
Fornasetti’s atypical design sensibilities have been applied to objects and home accessories, but also to rugs, candle holders, vases, chairs, lamps, furniture, clothing and most famously ceramic plates. Each piece is skilfully crafted by hand in the Fornasetti atelier in Milan.
The exhibition that opened at Artipelag on June 14th, 2019 and will continue until January 26th, 2020, displays Fornasetti’s paintings, drawings, graphic design, furniture and other design artefacts, as well as spatial installations.
Text by Shweta Salvi