The public may or may not be aware that today there is Futurism in materials, in covers, in umbrellas, in handbags, in scarves, in carpets, in ties, in tapestries, in cushions, in toys, in wallpapers and in lampshades; there is Futurism in the luminous decorations of Halls and Grand Hotels and in posters, in mural advertisements, in magazine covers, in furniture, in ceramics (marvellous are those by Tullio Mazzotti d'Albisola!), in scenography and curtains".
It may be a sign destiny that the famous Casa Mazzotti stands exactly on the boundary, defined by a bridge on the river-mouth of the Sansobbia river, between the two towns of Albissola Marina and Albisola Superiore. The two centres form a single one, but are divided by one extra or one less "S". In the impossibility of making a choice that would privilege one or the other of the forms of wording, but especially in order to fully express the spirit of the free use of words of the glorious years of Futurist ceramics, we shall entitle the critical historical contribution "Albisssola Futurist city" spelled with three "S", in honour of the dynamism of the time that, by enchantment, seems to be reawakening today.
As far as Casa Mazzotti is concerned, it is a white and light blue building designed in 1932 by Nicolaj Dijulgheroff, a painter and architect born in Bulgaria, of Viennese education and working in Turin, following the construction rules set by Sant'Elia and the theories of Marinetti. In 1934 Giuseppe Mazzotti, ceramic turner, earthenware-dealer and potter since an early age, who had founded in 1903 in Albisola the first furnace in the Pozzo Garitta that later hosted various episodes of Italian art from Liberty to Novecento, moves into his new premises on the Sansobbia. His sons Tullio, already famous as Tullio d'Albisola, and Torido give a new impulse to the Workshop and induced the most vivid energies of the Futurism of the North of Italy to converge there.
In that decade Albisola shared with Rome and Faenza the fortune of domestic ceramic. But the Ligurian town became the true capital for quality and quantity up to the Fifties, the time of the informal and of its personalities (Fontana, Jorn, Gallizio, Appel and Manzoni). What happens in Albisola in the Thirties is paradigmatic of the overall sense of Futurism. The first breakthrough (ideally placed between the publication of the Manifesto of 1909 and 1914, the outbreak of the First World War) had been progressive, ideological, centred upon various declarations, intentions and proclamations rather than on works of art (few authentic masterpieces). The second (that began just before the Twenties and continued at least until the beginning of the Second World War, with appendices even in the Sixties), consists of an intense capillary geographical production, diverted and uncontrolled, that involves every region, city, town, rich in artists and in works of art, that is, however, of a rather discontinuous quality. Paintings or sculptures, the museum works of art so abhorred by Marinetti, were not those that marked this second period of Futurism. On the contrary, it was the work conducted on the decorative arts (ceramics, design, fashion, ornament, etc.) that guaranteed a very high level of linguistic and formal experimentation, the liberty of intellect, the direct mastery of materials united to the ultramodern imagination, a faithful reflection, even theoretical, of the times. The key to a full understanding of the importance and the difference of the Second Futurism probably lies in an apparent contradiction. According to the well-known definition by Enrico Crispolti, who was the leading expert in this field, it is the contradiction between the recovery of craftsmanship, of work made by hand, even of tradition and the content of the minor history of Italian art, and the incredibly modern myth of the machine and the philosophy of the Futurist reconstruction of the universe.
Ceramics from Albisola offers one of the most convincing answers to this presumed dualism. Produced as an object for common use and therefore to be introduced into a regular market, it acquires those qualities of plastic-pictorial invention, the high decorative definition, both sculptural and of medium, the recurrence of themes and subjects, that are perfectly in harmony with the Futurist poetry. The adventure had already began in 1925 with the creation of the Ligurian Futurist Group, promoted by Tullio d'Albisola with Farfa together with Dino Gambetti, Alfredo Gaudenzi, Giuseppe Mario Anselmo, Torido Mazzotti and Ivos Pacetti. The activity of Farfa, a painter, poet, musician, and a very good friend of Marinetti, who experimented at 360 degrees, as a ceramist may be traced back to the beginning of the Twenties, therefore before the relation with Tullio, whose style is defined by Crispolti as still vaguely Déco. From the middle of that decade Tullio becomes the central figure of reference, the theoretical animator of the vicissitude of Albisola, but also the leading artist of Italian Futurist ceramics. His first works of art reflect the influence of an abstract conception of decoration (Tullio looked towards the model of the Bauhaus and the experiences conducted by Mondrian) transformed in the application of Futurist motifs onto a Déco background. In time, the attention towards the properties of the material (understood not as the triumph of material typical of the informal period) and the sculptorial and mediatic ambition of his works of art grew. Starting from the tradition of pottery, that he surpassed in a brief time, Tullio introduced Futurism in the ceramics of Albisola. From 1925, he began the exhibiting activity by taking part in the numerous Italian and European reviews that marked the state of the decorative arts (in Monza, Paris, Savona, Turin). Among his first works of art, the Presepe strapaesano from 1927 is famous, repeated in a later edition in 1928-1929, composed of twenty-nine pieces varnished with colours and enamels, where the traditional figurines are combined with modern motifs like the conical and umbrella shaped trees. In 1929 Tullio obtains the consecration as a great ceramist in the famous exhibition "Trentatré Futuristi" (Thirty-three Futurists) held at the Galleria Pesaro in Milan. On this occasion, in a personal room he presented explicitly Futurist objects, even so by their name, "arcivasi, biboccali, bivasi, tuberie, piatti futuristi, servizi fiorantipasto, vaso proiettile, bomboniere elettriche, copperotiche". Famous among these works is the Brocca Baker, in which the decorative motif was inspired by the well-known black soubrette Josephine Baker. The following year he was once again at the Galleria Pesaro, that became the focal exhibiting point in Lombardy: a well-known photograph portrays Farfa in profile (standing to attention), Tullio and Marinetti standing in front of the Futurist ceramics.
From the beginning of the Thirties, on the occasion of moving to the new premises, Albisola and the Mazzotti factory further reinforced the national primacy in the production of ceramics. The group from Turin, led by Fillia, moved to Albisola. Fillia was involved, before his premature death in 1936, in the transposition of the typical themes of aeropainting and of sacred art onto vases, tea and coffee sets and various common objects. Dijulgheroff, already an artist of the second workshop, the sculptor Mino Rosso and, marginally, Pippo Oriani also joined him. Among the other relevant artists, more or less close to Futurism, who passed through Albisola and must be at least remembered are Giovanni Acquaviva for plaques and plates ("per placche e piatti"), Marinetti's wife Benedetta for mural plates ("piatti murali") and Enrico Prampolini for a series of decorative panels ("pannelli decorativi"). These artists were mentioned in La ceramica futurista by Tullio from 1939. The young Aligi Sassu could also be added to the list, a Futurist between 1927 and 1929, born in Bologna and close to the Roman Futurist group, who worked on the making of his models of aeropainting in ceramics. La ceramica futurista is in fact the only testimony of works of art and pieces that have in great part been lost. Furthermore, the active role of Torido Mazzotti must not be forgotten, firstborn of Giuseppe and brother of Tullio, maker of many ceramic works by the painters and sculptors who passed by the factory and also author of his own works of art of abstract-geometric typology.
Among the first collaborators of the workshop, the presence of Bruno Munari was important who in 1929 made a series of imaginary animals, small object sculptures that make irony of the mechanical vision of nature. Again in 1932-1933 Munari produced other objects on this theme, like Bull Dog, an actual mechanical animal in ceramics with plates and bolts.
There is also the "Fontana question", who is mentioned both in the Manifesto Futurista della ceramica e aeroceramica (Futurist Manifesto of ceramics and aeroceramics) of 1938, signed Marinetti and Tullio. In fact, Fontana made a few pieces at the Mazzotti workshop in 1935-36, animal and plant forms of great plastic quality, among which the Coccodrillo (Crocodile) of 1936, currently conserved in the garden of the Casa Museo Giuseppe Mazzotti 1903. In the materialistic-manual use of ceramics by Fontana, Crispolti partly saw an anticipation of the informal exuberance, also shared by other personalities of the Ligurian group, particularly Giovanni Acquaviva and Giuseppe Mario Anselmo, but it remains difficult to connect it fully to the Futurist experience.
Finally, a particular experience conducted in the environment of Albisola was that of the Futurist ceramics by Ivos Pacetti, created independently from the Mazzotti workshop. The activity of Pacetti as a ceramist is limited to the years 1932-1933 and is rich with experimental interests that led to the experiments conducted in the field of photo-dynamism and dynamic simultaneity also used in the painted works of art.
"In Albisola, the art of ceramics, obscuring the heights reached in its great past, has placed itself in the avant-garde and surpassed all the ceramic furnaces in Italy, having reached very high artistic levels. Today we vaunt our extremely original aeroceramics against the heavy architectural forms in craclé of the best production of Nemy; we compare our Depero arabesque colouring with the cold decorations of the state schools of the Russian Suprematists; our plastic sport compositions are more audacious, more beautiful and more in harmony with the rational furniture of the architecture of Sant'Elia than the finical sculptures of the Viennese ceramists.
Futurist ceramics brought to attention the crucial, but also uncomfortable,
question of the relationship between fine arts and decorative arts.
Painting or sculpture, that is the most important forms, prisoners of
their condition of superiority, did not manage (and do not manage) to
enjoy that freedom of forms and ideas that the succedaneous arts allowed
themselves without too many problems. This is what took place far back
in the Twenties and Thirties: the Futurist reconstruction project of
the universe regained impulse and vitality exactly from the arts more
closely related to manual work, tradition and craftsmanship. Maybe the
future of ceramics at the dawn of the third Millennium may reveal, once
more, this enviable possibility of conducting a free, irregular and
rather anarchical experimentation.
Luca Beatrice was born 4th April 1961 in Turin, where he still lives.
He teaches Art History at the Brera Academy (Milan). As an art critic
and exhibition curator, his research has followed three main strands: