The beautiful rooms of the Museo delle Porcellane in Palazzo Pitti will host, from October 2, 2009 to February 15, 2010, the Betty Woodman exhibition: The Cheerful Verve of Porcelain. This is the first exhibition in Italy of the American artist’s porcelains produced during more than twenty years of work with the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres. The exhibition is curated by Ornella Casazza, director of the Museo degli Argenti and the Museo delle Porcellane of Palazzo Pitti.
It was 1986 when the sculptor Georges Jeanclos sent Betty Woodman an invitation to participate in a project at the Sèvres porcelain manufactory, one of the most famous in all of Europe. The manufactory was originally founded in Vincennes in 1740 by Louis XV and Madame Pompadour and was moved to Sèvres in 1756, soon becoming a possession of the Royal Crown. The project was organized by the French Ministry of Culture and it would immediately mark the beginning of a long collaboration between the American artist and the French porcelain workshop. She began experimenting with the different porcelain clays used there, inspired by the splendid creations of the 18th century. She reproduced their patterns and colors in her own works of art, which are indebted to the past but completely creatures of the present, akin to their historical ancestors but absolutely contemporary.
Betty Woodman quips, “By creating these objects, I wanted those who saw or used them to dream they were a guest for tea at the court of Marie Antoinette.” But the artist’s own dream, right from the start, has been to see her creations exhibited next to their original eighteenth-century counterparts. This dream has now come true in Florence, with Woodman’s porcelains side-by-side with the splendid porcelains purchased by Pietro Leopoldo and Ferdinando III and kept in the Palazzina del Cavaliere in Boboli Gardens.
Betty Woodman’s encounter with clay dates back to the 1950s: the mixture of earth and water has always represented the extreme closeness of the artist to her work, free of all the intermediating equipment and processes required by painting or sculpture. When she discovered Florence in 1951, just over twenty years old at the time, she also discovered the innumerable uses of shaped and fired clay: from the Etruscan and Roman pottery in museums to the Della Robbia works she found in the many tabernacles in the city and the various objects of the Tuscan tradition, from the roof tiles to the large pots in the gardens of the villas. The city not only entered into her work but also into her heart; after a number of sojourns there in the 1960s, she decided to buy a house in Antella, where she now spends all her springs and summers. The other six months are spent in New York, where in 2006 she put on a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum.
An internationally famous sculptor, Woodman found her greatest challenge at Sèvres, that of working in small dimensions, trying to create something that contained the full memory of historical porcelain while still being a wholly Betty Woodman creation.
The works in the exhibition are made with soft-paste porcelain, most of them worked on the wheel and then assembled. Each piece is hand painted and has undergone complex crafting and firing processes. The porcelains are accompanied by a selection of monoprints in relief on Arches paper, embellished with gold leaf and portraying the porcelains themselves. They were printed with the support of Solo Press, New York.