Pick Six: Belgian Crafts from 1958
We look back this week to Brussels in the year 1958, courtesy of a catalog of an obscure exhibition titled "Metiers d'Art Modernes en Belgique." Essentially an effort to promote exports sponsored by the Ministere des Affaires Economiques, the exhibit featured a range of wares in clay, metal, fiber, wood, and enamel, as well as several paintings. The gamut ran from artworks to decorative arts and design, both secular and liturgical. Almost all of the artisans and artists represented were unfamiliar to me, less from any failing on the part of Ministere than from the lack of any mechanism or entrepot for distributing these wares in the U.S., as clearly was present for Danish, Swedish, and Italian design.
Perusing the catalog, one is struck by the quality of abstraction, the number of figural (both human and animal) depictions or forms, and the very presence of liturgical objects and art, a category virtually ignored in modern American design.
One is struck also by a sense of delight, wit, and graphic exhilaration in many of the pieces, probably under-represented in my selections, given my own predilection for unornamented form. Overall, the catalog is a good teaser for Belgian mid-century decorative art, as the exhibition in 1958 must have been. Too bad there were no Belgian Taniers or Jensens, or more buying trips by those marketing impresarios to Brussels.
The six selections are as follows:
1. Ceramic animal by P. Devos. One of three "Animaux Fantastiques" by this artisan, it shows the whimsical aspect of Belgian decorative art in this period. I like the photo, with the shadow, also.
2. Metal cross by G. de Sauvage. Graphically arresting abstraction, where the arms, body, and head take the traditional shape of nails. Slits at hands, feet, and heart create a positive/negative crucifixion. Stark and poignant.
3. Wall light of glass set in concrete by M. Martens. Abstract composition done for the concourse of the Ministere des Affaires Economiques.
4. Multi-spouted vessels by J. Van De Kerckhove. Glazed ceramic in green and black. The two cylinders in the foreground are part of the same piece. Quirky.
5. Sculptural metal figures in copper oxide by W. De Buck. Interesting, African-influenced abstraction. The Belgians, along with the French, were the most aesthetically perceptive collectors of African art.
6. Group of green ceramic bowls by G. de Sauvage. Again, I'm drawn to the simple vocabulary employed by this artisan. The photo reminds me of Barbara Morgan, who shot James Prestini's work, among many others.