In Italy there is an expression, "senso dello spettacolo" -- sense of spectacle; showmanship. This is a quality Antonia Campi (born 1921) has never lacked, in her very long career as a pioneering and highly idiosyncratic form-giver. She has been responsible for some of the most audacious shapes to ever emerge from Italy, a place known for its fertile inventiveness with audacious shapes.
This tall vessel, a ewer or handled vase, was produced in very limited numbers as part of Antonia Campi's "Objects of Fantasy" collection of the early 1950s. A few examples of this particular vase are known, most notably the two in the collection of the International Museum of Ceramic Design, in Italy. The roots of this vase's genesis are in the avant-garde, bizarre "form of the chicken" tea service Campi presented to great fanfare at the 1951 Milan Triennale.
Notwithstanding its breathtaking originality, Campi's masterpiece owes an obvious debt to surrealism. Just as surrealism aimed to randomly reconcile the wildly disparate (in the famous words of André Breton, "as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table"), this vessel's feet suggest those of birds of prey, while the elaborate sculpture that is the handle suggests the form of the sea-horse. Two creatures that occupy utterly different realms and in actuality never meet, randomly brought together as formal sources of inspiration for a ceramic vessel whose function is not furthered by allusions to either birds or sea-horses. At once modernist and Baroque, serious and playful, this vase reconciles fine art and applied art with no less grace than the work of someone like Isamu Noguchi.
Signed with the glazed stamp of the Società Ceramica Italiana di Laveno, the manufacturer.
Literature: Antonia Campi: Antologia Ceramica 1947-1997, Gentilli; Antonia Campi: Forme per la Ceramica, Pansera for Terre d’Arte.