Fornasetti: La Follia Pratica
January 20 - February 29, 2004
Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Chicago
Piero Fornasetti is the one artist
who typically leaves newcomers to Modern design scratching
their heads. The prolific designer created a maddening array
of fanciful motifs, which adorned objects from furniture to
ashtrays to scarves and plates. Looking at Fornasettis
collaborations with Gio Ponti can be even more baffling; here
was an artist whos work is often compared to Giorgio
De Chirico, but is perhaps more comparable to Max Ernst, plastering
Pontis clean-lined furniture with sheet music, newsprint,
letters of the alphabet and other wacky stuff.
Chicagos Istituto Italiano Di Cultura attempts to shed
some light on the Fornasetti mystique with La Follia Pratica,
an exhibition featuring fine examples of the late Pieros
work as well as the designs being carried on by his son, Barnaba.
The Secret of Fornasetti
While his mid-century contemporaries in the U.S. were exploiting
mass-production to its fullest potential, Fornasetti was toiling
away in a tiny workshop attached to his home in Via Bazzini
in Milan. Apparently inspired by virtually everything he laid
his eyes on, Piero produced literally thousands of different
My secret is imagination he was fond of saying,
yet one of his most closely guarded secrets was his printing
technique. Barnaba Fornasetti touches upon this technique
in the 32-page exhibition catalog.
My father began to experiment with different printing
techniques in the 1940s while producing lithographs
for contemporary Italian artists. From the lithography stone
he passed on to zinc plates and began to refine a transfer
technique using a special paper for printing his designs,
which were then applied to the lacquered surfaces of furniture
and objects of every nature. This is the famous and often
mysticized secret of Fornasetti. He was capable
of printing in lithography on the most unexpected surfaces.
Watercolor sketch for one of the
Città di Carte plates
While Fornasetti has delighted
many, his work was never collected as fervently as that of
his contemporaries, perhaps due to his prickly nature regarding
what makes a Fornasetti 'original.'
Everything that I have made in the past and continue
to make in the present is original. I am alive, and furthermore
a piece of furniture made today is probably more technically
perfect and physically less damaged than an older model
In a market where an objects uniqueness and date of production
is everything, Fornasettis general indifference to dating,
signing, or numbering the items he produced warded off many
would-be collectors. However, in 1998, Barnaba collaborated
with Christies to produce a sale dedicated to Fornasetti,
which made great strides in clearing up much of the misinformation
and ambiguity which surrounded the production history.
The exhibition in Chicago primarily consists of items from
the showroom, which were transferred from Via Bazzini to Via
Montenapoleone (in the center of Milan) during the 1960s.
Some fine examples of Fornasettis trademark screens
will be on display, along with many of the plates and other
porcelain objects which bare his metaphysical illustrations.
Perhaps the most exciting inclusions in the exhibition are
Pieros sketches and watercolors for everything from
his Acrobati screen to the Pranzo in piedi, a device for those
who eat and run. Vespa enthusiasts will either be delighted
or horrified by Fornasettis use of one of his favorite
motifs, that of playing cards, in a promotional project for
A Piero Fornasetti screen, one of his many
objects utilizing a playing card motif.
A number of Barnaba Fornasettis
own designs are included in the exhibition as well. Purists
may scoff at the idea of the Multimediale trumeu, designed
to contain the most representative of todays social
customs: the telephone, fax, computer, TV and DVD, Hi-Fi and
However, Barnaba may escape the ridicule that many sons of
great designers are faced with due to Pieros philosophy;
he truly wanted his dream to continue after his death and
organized the production to insure that it could be perpetuated.
It is not important when an object is produced, but
how it is produced.
Along with contemporary ideas like his Architettura CD holder,
Barnaba has also developed a contemporary pitch, a Fornasetti
is eco-sustainable', it is passed on to ones children,
or resold, but never thrown away!
La Follia Pratica
January 19 - February 29, 2004
Italiano di Cultura
500 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Tuesday, January 19
Special guest: Barnaba Fornasetti
(RSVP: 312 822-9545)
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