In praise of the vase


Nowadays, the vase is a real paradox: it is the most useless of all utility objects!

Then again, it is still the most easily identifiable icon in ceramic art.
In substance: who would ever think of putting a bunch of flowers in one of these little masterpieces? Only some dotty old English dame, like the lady who broke off the neck of a Qing vase to make better use of it, only then to give it away (because she wanted to get rid of it) to a friend as daft as herself, who picked it out of her household rubbish and which, after further toings and froings, saw itself up for auction in London and sold for 50,000 pounds (rather than the 140,000 it would have been worth had it been intact).
Museums the world over, dividing them by period, style, author or by material (from the mere terracotta to glazed and painted maioli- ca, to porcelain or stoneware), are filled with vases.
Classical vases, Renaissance vases, Islamic vases, Chinese and Far Eastern vases. Vases whose function and representation were still indissociably united.
The same things, at times, come back again and again.
It is now an accepted fact that modern ceramics has put itself to the forefront as, essentially, a sculptural medium and that today’s leaders in artistic movements and events come to it of themselves. An explosion and an electric discharge, where least expected. In the end, amongst the most difficult of things to pull off: to attract, involve and astonish by the simplest of means. A virtue few people are endowed with, and few objects.
The images distract from the reality of the object as utensil: the cup is still a cup but also the myth of Dionysus or of Artemis, and already it is removed from its very limi- ts as a mere thing, placed in relation with space or even with an imaginary spatial dimension that takes in the Olympus of the Gods”. Towards this ancient unity, progressively weakened by the privations im- posed by the Industrial Revolution and the division of labour, Italian ceramics of the Twentieth Century tried to keep an eye on this unity till the exigencies of representing the world were overturned by an aesthetic of plurality of forms that could in no way be forced into a unitary vision. The mirror of the vase was no longer able to reflect the countless sources of light coming from opposing and contrasting quarters and, in the effort, became, itself, deformed or even broken. Broken, the age-old vase, a thou- sand crazy bits of it have gone to constellate the heaven of this “brief century” and it is the poetics of the fragment, of driftwood and shard.
In art: the crisis in values with all that follows. Some have gathered up these fragments to preserve the memory of it for future generations or, awaiting a moment of re-composition; others have rode the wave disarticulated forms in the ingenuous or rea- soned conviction that this was what modernity was all about.