The Measurement of Function
Excerpted from "Jewels of culture", published by "Gli Ori"
"We should wonder why a jewel shouldn't be considered a work of art. What's the difference between a canvas and one of Fontana's jewels, if not one of scale?" This is what Lara-Vinca Masini wondered. Just a year has gone by since the exhibition of twentieth-century jewelry held at the Museum of Silver in Florence. Moreover, the renowned scholar began her essay in an eloquent and meaningful way: "The 'artist's'jewel, the 'author's' jewel: two realities at once parallel and complementary; in a certain sense, but in a different way, the expression-symbol of the artistic situation at the moment in which they are situated." A twofold inquiry was considered, outlining a synthetic history of the twentieth-century per exempla: What is a jewel's nature?; What is the relationship between the artist and the author's jewels? The analysis of Giampaolo Babetto's work deals partly with these considerations, beginning from an underlying question: how can his jewels be defined? The Paduan artist's critical history offers two especially exemplary cases for contemplation. Introducing Babetto at the Guggenheim collection of Venice, in the 1995, Gillo Dorfles analyzed his "plastic objects," while the following year Germano Celant wrote that "the jewel is no longer experienced as a sculpture to be worn, but as fragment of a bodily architecture."
Sculpture, architecture: different channels in the river of art to distinguish works made almost entirely of gold. And yet it isn't simply about linguistic subtlety, it is clear that the term "jewel" does not exhaust the essence of Babetto's inventions, since this – considered as a mere ornamental object – alludes to something decorative that is an end in itself. If, then, "jewel" seems to be a reductive term, it is true, on the other hand, that the artist himself claims for his works a precise destination of usage, a connection to the body. And so we come to a further problem: function as the "watershed" of the work, function as quality, as a specific and conditioning feature. In other words, the fact that Babetto's works are worn, does this somehow modify their value and our perception of them?
Such reflection leads us immediately to the old debate over hierarchies and genres in art, to the canonical as well as obsolete classification of major and minor guilds, and for the latter, to a further euphemistic definition as "applied arts." In essence, this means that for creative principles bent to certain ends (a lamp, an altar, a cover of a book) the outcome is automatically ascribed to a lesser and not simply parallel field of art. This division seems to persist even today with regard to certain circumscribed arenas of expression, such as the goldsmith's art, despite the culture of contamination between forms, genres, and disciplines which characterize our time. By contrast, the path Giampaolo Babetto has taken frequently intertwines with various artistic movements, participating to them by way of a very personal interpretation, while at other times he takes his cue from disparate aspects of the environment surrounding him – the regularity and progression of a stone staircase, a thick tangle of leaves, light heaps of clouds, a Gothic arch – that the artist photographs and transfers to an enlarged fragment or, particularly in his publications, issues as a comment or visual material to his works. Then there is his relatively recent survey, which goes back to the late Eighties, of Pontormo and some of his frescoes in Tuscany, the Certosa of Galluzzo in Florence, the Medicean Villa in Poggio a Caiano. Outlining in this way a synthetic, iconographic iter of Babetto's works brings to light an interest, beginning in the second half of the Sixties, in visual, optic, and kinetic studies that throughout Italy and the rest of Europe were undergoing experimentation, and additionally, in Padua, – training ground of the artist – found a vein of specific inquiry with the Enne Group.
||Babetto began to make brooches, rings, necklaces with adjustable parts which he inscribed in various ways with light; further, the artist developed motifs in serial formats which he associated with one another in harmonic compositions.
These were the years in which Jesus Raphael Soto unveiled the Great Panoramic Vibrating Wall at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome (1965), in which Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely experimented with their visual obsessions, in which Gianni Colombo conceived his own pulsating monochrome reliefs and "elastic spaces," in which Getulio Alviani designed optical fabrics and jewels for Germana Marucelli, and in which Paco Rabanne, also in a transmigration of genres but not of creative substance, designed his revolutionary metallic clothes.
In the field of jewelry, we also find, for example, Maurizio Mochetti, who designed necklaces in disassembled piece of steel or equipped with light-sensitive devices, capable of transforming light itself into sound.
In 1966, the Jewish Museum of New York consecrated Minimalist art with its "Primary Structures" exhibition, disclosing its repertory of naked geometry, often monumental. The course of the Seventies also brought Babetto closer to a Minimalist variation on his visual studies, creating full and empty parallelepipeds, prisms, and concentric circles in the shape of brooches, rings, bracelets in yellow gold, in white gold, sometimes with touches of ebony.
Donald Judd's pure forms in brass, steel, and aluminium are reflected in the gold of these works, whose geometric evolution also recalls Robert Morris' metallic structures or, even more precisely, Sol LeWitt's gradual, serialized progressions. The ideational tension that underpins all Babetto's works becomes intense, and his natural bent for mathematical rules and modular constructions has often been remarked upon for their objective familiarity with Palladio's works, in the daily visions of the landscape of Veneto.
This personal leitmotiv returns to enrich and deepen any study of Babetto's seemingly-simple works: a leitmotiv that brings biographical elements into consideration, such as his journey to Morocco – between 1970 and '71, namely at the height of his structural and optical studies – where the artist was struck by the profile of the ancient imperial walls, and still more, in 1983, his journey to New York, where his visit to an exhibition of Japanese lacquers at the Metropolitan Museum gave rise to a series of works in gold and coloured resins (of red, black, and white) for necklaces, brooches, rings.
Resins that no longer take on primary or minimal shapes: rather by this time his had become a more sensitive geometry, in which his optico-perceptive studies of the previous years had produced slippery surfaces, unusual projections of level and volume, missing parts. The stick-shaped brooches suggest anomalous parallelepipeds, pressed or diverted into sudden curves, the circle-shaped rings are deprived of segments with acute or round angles, while other rings, in squared sections, project oblique cubes upwards, which when worn, perfectly cling to the finger, giving the illusion of double vision.
The years between 1989 and 1990 were a distinctively figurative season for Babetto, with his study of Pontormo's frescoes, refashioned into segments or fragments: a study, obviously also of colour, leading to reflections on niello surfaces, sometimes rough, sometimes smooth, and extending even to the use of pure pigments, azure or red, often concealed inside the cavities of his rings or the pieces of his necklaces.
The pure and slightly grainy azure colour that Babetto used in that period more often recalled Anish Kapoor's silken depths and International Klein Blue, and seemingly by way of Yves Klein we can suppose a derivation from Giotto, whom Klein identified as his mentor and precursor: "The blue of Giotto's skies," was, in Klein's opinion, an expression of an "always very monochromatic" intention of the Master. And just these cloudless blue skies, studded with Giotto's golden stars or with the mantles of his saints, can be considered a part of Babetto's lexicon given his familiarity with the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. (continue >>)