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Italian ceramists hold major show in Hong Kong

Dec 03. 2018
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By The Nation

Italian ceramic artists Giampaolo Bertozzi and Stefano Casoni, who began their practice in 1980 in Imola, are showcasing their works in the exhibition, “Bertozzi & Casoni” at Rossi & Rossi in Hong Kong’s Wong Chuk Hang area.

The pair reverses iconographic conventions and perceptive elements, freely mixing various references and contradicting presuppositions. “Flamingo” (2012) features a grotesquely decorated plate carrying the severed head of the work’s titular bird, while in “Diana” (2016), a lady’s handbag conceals rock star sunglasses, cigarette packets and pill bottles.

Straddling compositional surrealism and formal hyperrealism, Bertozzi & Casoni also study contemporary society’s rubbish, incorporating the remains of cultural icons into their assembled juxtapositions. In “Cuccia Brillo” (2003), for instance, a pop art-filtered Brillo box irreverently transforms into a makeshift doghouse made entirely of ceramic, a conceptual manifestation of time irremediably gone. Their sculptures – symbolic, mocking and pervaded by a sense of attraction for all that is short-lived, perishable and decaying – have thus become internationally recognised metaphors for the human condition. Yet the biting irony of their works is balanced by their unassailable perfection. 

“Bucranio con Varano”

By reclaiming everyday objects to the aesthetic level, Bertozzi & Casoni adopt a straightforwardness that challenges prejudices. At the same time, they arouse suspicion through the visual deception of their exacting technique – a complex and enveloping mechanism that has no end or interruption.

Far from simply being a critique of society, the artists’ dazzling work can be understood as a purely aesthetic proposition. As fragile as it is strong, the ceramic material exalts Bertozzi & Casoni’s vile miscellany, offering a cynical metaphor of abundance and prosperity. Whether jovial or coarse, hedonistic or truculent, these works reveal a habitus – and not a habitat – that has spoilt every idyll, calling to mind the end of all things. 

In “Bucranio con varano” (2012), an ox skull – symbolic of animal sacrifice in the ancient world – is surmounted by a Komodo dragon, a gigantic reptile indigenous to Indonesia. A dual symbol of death and rebirth, the lizard seeks the light and the sun, both representing rebirth and resurrection. Like a medieval man-eater, the Komodo dragon defends the cranium with splayed jaws, almost as if to breathe new life into it, initiating a metamorphosis.

Bertozzi & Casoni was founded in 1980 by Giampaolo Bertozzi and Stefano Dal Monte Casoni. After undertaking early studies at the Ceramic Art Institute of Faenza, the artists gravitated towards a dialogue with the great traditions of art and – seeing the possibilities of painted sculpture in ceramics – nurtured an original vocation to experiment with sculpture.

The two went on to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. Around this time, they also began to participate in exhibitions that focused on their motivations for establishing a new ceramics movement. Taking part in these shows reflected an effort to foster support for their expressive medium, which at the time was viewed as a “minor art” compared to other forms. Their first creations were small and made of thin, polychrome majolica.

From 1985 to 1989, they collaborated with Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola, including for a year as researchers in the Centro Sperimentazioni e Ricerche sulla Ceramica (1987–88). This experience led to their association with K International Ceramics Magazine, for which they created cover images. As their relationship with Cooperativa Ceramica neared its end, the artists produced two major works sponsored by the company: projects in Tama New Town, Tokyo (1989–90), and Ditelo con i fiori,a large panel on the exterior wall of Imola Hospital. 

Between 1983 and 1994, the two engaged with the world of design thanks to a special relationship with exhibition space Dilmos in Milan. They also participated in several editions of the Abitare il Tempo trade fair in Verona and the Triennale di Milano, as well as exhibitions in the former Church of San Carpoforo in Milan. 

During the 1990s, Bertozzi & Casoni’s work took a much more conceptual and radical turn, as if to compensate for the exaggerated expressiveness and rigid perfection in their usual execution. With this later work, the two closed the chapter of painted majolica and moved into experimentations characterised by an almost exclusive use of materials and technologies derived from industry. This decisive step permitted their work to conquer a higher level of physical presence, as its pictorial virtuosities were abandoned in favour of an objective rendering of selected subjects. Their preferred iconographic themes, which found substance in the broad artistic genres of vanitas and memento mori, underwent a fantastic transfiguration: their formal reproduction took on an objective form that diminished the presence of the artists, themselves, and the conditioning perception of a particular time.

This important turning point in their practice led to a new chapter of “contemplations of the present”, in which a sort of “epic of trash” – the attraction for what is fleeting, transitory, perishable and in decay – became internationally recognised as a human condition that is not just contemporary. They finally had begun to attract the interest of art critics, museums and major Italian and international art galleries.

Bertozzi & Casoni’s work was featured in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and 2011. Recent museum exhibitions in Italy include a survey at Castello Sforzesco and Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza (2008–09) and a solo show at Fondazione Museo Pino Pascali, Polignano a Mare (2011–12). In the Netherlands, “Bertozzi & Casoni: Timeless” was presented at Museum Beelden aan Zee in The Hague (2013).

The artists have dedicated decades to examining the cultural and artistic refuse of contemporary society. Their work has been characterised by a never-ending, vivifying alternation between descents into decay and revivals of survivors; overlooked beauties, abstraction and representation; impermanence and eternity; history and contemporaneity; fantastic imagination and technical precision.


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