Gillo Dorfles
Giampaolo Babetto
Excerpted from "The Jewels" by Giampaolo Babetto at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, published by "Aurum"




The encounter of the fantastic with the functional ensures that the goldsmith's art often represents a sort of "ordeal by fire" (even quite literally) for a visual artist. Undoubtedly, the "obligatory target" – the fingers, the neck, the hand, which are the support of any jewel – is the necessary foundation of any formal invention.
In Giampaolo Babetto's case, the final aim of the jewel is always present in any of his compositions, even the most daring, but never separated from an acute sensibility towards the material used and to its workmanship. In fact, it is in the working of the single materials – be it gold or copper foil, ebony inlays, soldering, acid corrosion, touches of colour – that Babetto demonstrates his steady attention to mysterious forces inherent in the raw materials that his forging will bring to life.
And indeed, his preference for using metals in foils rather than melting them down, allows his "plastic objects" - ( I prefer not to define them as just "jewels," because it is often a matter of truly geometric shapes raised to the rank of body ornaments but having a high degree of harmony in themselves) - are very often something different and "more" than just the usual ornaments; that is to say, they are real micro-architectonic constructions bent to a function that makes them more natural.
I mention their "degree of harmony" only to emphasize a certain preference of the artist for pure geometric shapes and the "void" around which they are produced, as well as for balances of proportion, on a precise numerical basis, made however uncertain by the presence of a certain dissymmetry and unevenness that increase their fascination.
And yet, it is not only the stereometric rigour (that until some time ago was at the heart of almost all his activities) that fascinates the artist. In his more recent inventions, certain formulations have emerged that I would define as "plastic," obviously offering him a new range of expressive possibilities.
Some examples of a more flexible approach, far from the consistency of geometric shapes, had in fact already occurred in some of his earlier necklaces with jointed pieces; then a series of works, with an undoubtedly new and different allure, found their "inspiration" in his recent studies of certain famous frescoes by Jacopo da Pontormo: frescoes where the Renaissance "classicism" of the great artist approaches a kind of suavity that already foresees the coming of the baroque.
In these fine-drawn and exquisite patterns – which are at once both decorative jewels and minute sculptures, where only the memory of Pontormo remains in subtle hints of the images – the encounter between the fantastic and the ornamental seems to be fully resolved, allowing us to anticipate in Babetto's future work further developments towards a more plastic and "organic" conception of his creativity as a goldsmith.
Jiri Svestka
The Goldsmith at the End of the Century
Excerpted from "The Jewels" by Giampaolo Babetto at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, published by "Aurum"




The Viennese architect, Adolf Loos, acclaimed not only for his construction methods, so very balanced both in terms of proportion and of materials, but even more for his theoretical attacks on architectural ornament, once expressed his opinion on the evolution of art in relation to its ever-growing independence. He considered that the liberation of science from art was the critical conquest of the eighteenth century, while the neat separation of art from business was that of the nineteenth century. According to Loos, the task of the twentieth century is to consolidate and exploit this distinction. However, at the end of this century we notice a violent reaction: Paul Feyerabend and others have pleaded the cause of "Science as Art" and the function of design – now, as in those days, the most creative field in the industry – is becoming increasingly vast and more essential. We can legitimately talk not only about industrial design, the creation of furniture and fashion, but even more about the design of the individual, the forming of a career in the planning of a life.
The fact that our times are characterized by a universal metamorphosis of all the values that were once considered unshakable was one of the essential statements of the Post-Modernists. It seems that the confidently-declared strength of the Modernists at the beginning of the century with its dreams and utopian projects has been quickly extinguished and at the end of the century only a more-or-less structured synthesis remains. And so the field of artistic creation takes on a decisive role. Adolf Loos's expectations have been completely overturned. Lately, with conceptual and minimalist art, art itself has recognized that its independence has reached an impasse. Since then it has continuously tried to close the gap between its pretence as self-proclaimed instigator of visions and its lack of acceptance from society thanks to its ties to business and design. Among English sculptors, Toni Cragg, Richard Deacon, and Greanville Davey, for example, have acknowledged that the true fiction or simulation of a utilitarian function lends more value to their sculptures than what an ideological insistence on the acceptance of abstract principles might have done. Through a formal association with existing architectural forms, Rachel Whiteread, for example, succeeded in creating elaborate sculptures that intrinsically communicate the stories of various generations. Among younger artists, it is worth mentioning Andrea Frazer and Gabriel Orozco in this connection; they have been creating a new, almost utilitarian form, or, from another point-of-view, they have been "reworking" an already existing form. The American sculptors, Siah Armajani and Scott Burton (who died in 1989), are among the precursors of this important turning point in the concept of art. With his sculptures of functional furniture in the streets of Manhattan, Burton found himself in direct opposition to the inhuman "monumental minimalism" of Richard Serra's works. Siah Armajani, like a philosopher anticipating the Post-Modernists with his "bridges" and his " sculpture-chairs," formulated a new relationship between human nature, environment, and art. The latest works of one of the protagonists of minimalism, Donald Judd, which deal with furniture in austere forms, can be taken as the visualisation of the turning point in the earlier "avant-garde" mentality. Structuralism, claiming that " form follows function," has developed in the past decade into "the form produces the vision." (Heinrich Klotz, Moderne und Postmoderne Architektur der Gegenwart 1960-1980, Braunschweig/ Wiesbaden 1984). Design and industry have taken on these tasks, for which there is no longer any vigour in today's art.
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