Groundbreaking Italian Postwar Ceramics Resurface in London

This month Repetto Gallery, a new art space in the heart of London, debuts “Shaping ceramics: Fontana, Garelli, Leoncillo, Melotti,” a major exhibition in homage to postwar Italian ceramics. This overlooked movement is characterized by the dynamic mix of abstraction, utility, and art theory, that was championed by Lucio Fontana, Franco Garelli, Leoncillo Leonardi, and Fausto Melotti. Repetto’s show, which includes 30 works made between 1946 and 1968, features each of these masters, and represents their respective innovative practices in ceramics.

Lucio Fontana, who wrote several manifestos on the theory of Spatialism in the 1940s and ’50s, is represented through an expressive series of plates, many of which are punctured with holes and incorporate sgraffito designs, and a handful of raw, elegant figural sculptures. The works reflect his argument that matter should be infiltrated to create dynamic, multidimensional forms—a concept which has been applied to contemporary performance art and the Arte Povera movement—which he frequently exercised in his own practice, often by cutting and poking holes through canvas, and other materials. Franco Garelli’s works—black-and-white sculptures that utilize negative space and and carved-out forms—involve a similar decomposition of material, and an attention to the fluidity and poetry of the object.  

Fontana’s and Garelli’s works are intermingled with the abstract, vertical sculptures of Leoncillo Leonardi and the Greek-inspired works of Fausto Melotti. Leonardi departed from his initial cubist leanings to create these crumbling, telluric pieces that resemble ancient ruins or columnar sea creatures with barnacles.

Alternatively, Melotti presents figural sculptures in rich glazes or left in raw terra cotta, ranging from simple unglazed human forms with conical bodies to elaborate female forms wrapped in layers of flowing drapery, glazed in creamy whites and pinks. Melotti conceives of his work in relation to the religious cult of the Eleusinian mysteries, “where plates, vases, and bowls transcend every ordinary domestic function to transfigure themselves through some sacred ritual for Persephone’s and mother Demeter’s death and resurrection.” A distinct work, Cerchi (c. 1961), delves into abstraction, while resembling biomorphic forms. It is composed of cylinders that have been fused together in an organic stack, with small beads hanging from their centers, resembling a group of biological cells.  

Striking a balance between classical and experimental ideals, the works on view seamlessly meld design, functionality, and artistry.

Sola Agustsson

Shaping ceramics: Fontana, Garelli, Leoncillo, Melotti” is on view at Repetto Gallery, London, Oct. 2nd—25th, 2014.

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