Ever see a vase, plate or cushion with a black and white image of a woman’s face printed on it? Maybe it was at an upscale boutique or the home of someone who cares much about their interiors. These highly prized items are most probably works of Italian sculptor, painter and illustrator Piero Fornasetti. At Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), an opportunity to explore a massive collection of the famed Italian artisan has arrived—not only for the first time in Korea but also as its first stop in Asia. Curated by Barnaba Fornasetti (son of Piero), Fornasetti: Practical Madness showcases the magical, whimsical and playful mind of the celebrated artisan.
Born in 1913 as the eldest to a bourgeois Italian family, Fornasetti came to be an artist much against his father’s will. He attended Milan’s Brera Academy—where the study of the nude as the center of art education—only to realize that the traditional institution was too limiting to fulfill his artistic philosophy. As a result, he left the school to pursue his own career, learning from books, lithography, etching, and most importantly, traveling the Italian peninsula and the northern half of the African continent. As the artist developed a unique fascination for an object as a multiple, he came to realize the importance of collecting—collections of objects would, "at the right moment," serve as "aesthetic reference to [be] use[d] for [his] creations" while the act of collecting itself granted him "a sense of tranquility" which he noted as "another satisfaction of the collector."
In order to highlight this artist’s love affair with the object as a multiple (or in other words variations), the exhibition begins with a room dedicated to multiple variations of a few objects: tables, screens and trumeaus. While simple in form, each of them is elaborately decorated with illustrations portraying a story of its own. For example, one screen depicts a mystical city made of playing cards while another screen captures a scene of what might be the study of a Roman arts collector. This room sets the tone for the rest of the chronologically laid out exhibition, by suggesting the viewer to take it slow, and read the details in the works and gain insight into the unique stories told by the artist. By showcasing more than 1,300 pieces from the Fornasetti archive, the exhibition also highlights the importance of the act of collecting; In addition to the works of art, frames and display tables filled with Fornasetti’s personal collection of magazines, pictures, illustrations among other items are represented throughout the show suggesting the source of his inspiration.
Whether illustrations of the many facades of ancient Roman temples or the many faces of Italian opera soprano singer and actress Lina Cavalieri, Fornasetti’s unlimited versions of variations expands our own imagination in viewing his pieces. Sometimes it seems as though Fornasetti was inspired by Chinese vase paintings with a little mix of Roman mythology, or just making a fun illusion, the possibilities are endless. “[Fornasetti] was born into a family of wretched good taste and use wretched good taste as the key for liberating the imagination.” The details in the illustrations expose another layer of the artist’s wit, with short yet interesting stories each of them entails.