Fornasetti: The Complete Universe

Fornasetti: The Complete Universe

Troy Seidman
Oct 26, 2010

For fans, collectors and dealers Rizzoli's upcoming book Fornasetti: The Complete Universe is cause for massive celebration. Nearly 700 pages long, with 3,000 images and illustrations, it is a composite catalogue raisonne and coffee table book extraordinaire. For those ever frustrated with the paucity of information on Fornasetti, the book feels like a miracle.

I like to equate Fornasetti with Andy Warhol. Both had long, prolific careers that constantly replenished their output with material that was simultaneously fresh but iconic. Both were talented illustrators and masters of appropriation. Fornasetti is remarkable in the realms of both art and design in his enthusiastic embrace of figuration, antiquity and the ornate defying not only his generations aesthetic preferences but many trends inherent in Modernism.

Unlike Warhol, whose works are mostly priced in the million dollar range, objects by Fornasetti remain accessible to a large segment of the population. Of course there are Fornasetti pieces (notably 1950's furniture emblazoned with his most iconic motifs) with price tags that approach six-figures. However there is also a significant amount of material available on the secondary market today that was made by the Fornasetti atelier during his lifetime. (Full disclosure: I am a dealer who specializes in vintage Fornasetti) Such pieces, including everything from silk scarves, lamps, umbrella stands, ashtrays, mirrors and decorated porcelain can be found in the several hundred to several thousand dollar range. Fornasetti: The Complete Universe is such an astounding book as for the first time there is an attempt to document and date everything (?!) that Piero created during his lifetime. Fornasetti has numerous motifs or subjects that he applied to an array of consumer goods that are uniquely his own notably malachite, mythology, playing cards, the personification of the sun and moon, musical instruments and "Themes & Variations" (which puts a woman's face in over 300 surrealist scenarios).

The book is composed of two-halves; one dedicated to his artistic ambitions and evolution, the second how his talents were applied to creating a host of elaborate and distinctive consumer products. Fornasetti's son, Barnaba is largely responsible for both maintaining his father's archives, the creation of this book and the enduring popularity of Fornasetti. Since his father's death in 1988, Barnaba has actively reissued designs and licensed certain iconic images. Some purists may find it problematic that such post-humous work is included here. After all such pieces were not created nor overseen by the creator and will likely never appreciate in value.

Regardless, Fornasetti: The Complete Universe is another feat by Rizzoli which is distinguishing itself as defining, expanding and educating on the 20th century design canon. Listed at $250 the book is both very expensive but undeniably valuable (as the last significant Fornasetti book was published in 1991). Praise Amazon for their generous discounts — currently listed at $157.50! This book will be (deservingly) on many people's holiday wish list.

Images: Fornasetti: The Complete Universe

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