Seguso Vetri d'Arte: Design Museum Ghent exhibition explores the history of glass objects

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Seguso Vetri d'Arte: Design Museum Ghent exhibition explores the history of glass objects
Flavio Poli, Model 12890, 1960. Seguso Vetri d’Arte. Vaso verde, rosso cinese e giallo. Private collection© 2013 Marc Heiremans/Frank Michta.

GHENT.- The exhibition ‘Seguso Vetri d’Arte’ is the result of intensive archival research by Marc Heiremans, expert in 20th-centrury Italian glass art. Some 200 magnificent glass objects from private collections, each individual piece a testament to exquisite craftsmanship, illustrate the story of this Venetian glassworks, from the early beginnings in 1932 until the discontinuation of activities in 1973.

The A.S.V.-Barovier Seguso & Ferro was created on Murano (I) out of the dissolution of the Vetreria Artistica-Barovier e C., which had reduced its infrastructure in 1929 as a result of the financial crisis in New York. Several of the master-glassblowers sought employment elsewhere. Production occurred simultaneously in various locations. A falling-out among the various partners ended the collaboration in 1932. A number of them subsequently reunited and continued their collaboration with the old distributors. Growing success quickly required legalization. 1933 saw the foundation of the Artistica Soffiera e Vetreria-Barovier Seguso & Ferro, with Luigi Ferro, Napoleone Barovier and Antonio Seguso along with his sons Ernesto and Archimede as equal partners. The term Soffiera in the name refers to the parallel production of glass blown for lamps, a specialty of Napoleone Barovier.

A company style was only developed as of 1934, after the introduction of Flavio Poli as artistic consultant. Contrary to the actual partners – all barely educated glassblowers – Poli could rely on a fairly extensive cultural background owing to his prior activities as designer. It was he who convinced the partners to experiment, a prerequisite for achieving a production all their own. The close collaboration between Flavio Poli and the master-glassblowers Archimede Seguso and Alfredo Barbini played a fundamental role in this process. By trial and error, new glass techniques spawned new colour effects such as Pesco (peach red) and Laguna (sky blue), obtained by enclosing an intense colour – ruby red and dark blue respectively – between two layers of opal glass. Further blowing delivered delicately transitioning hues. From 1935 onwards the glassworks garnered regular awards at national and international exhibitions thanks to this innovative production. Their show-stopping contributions to the 1935 World Fair in Brussels and the 1936 Milan Triennale brought in new buyers. One of them, the wholesaler Veronese from Paris (F), was to play a major defining role in the history of the ASV-Barovier Seguso & Ferro. At the 1937 Paris World Fair, Flavio Poli presented the grigio oro pulegoso and the bollicine metalliche techniques at the Italian pavilion.

Enhanced productivity required new investments, and in 1937 the partners decided to multiply the capital tenfold. Luigi Ferro subsequently withdrew. His shares were acquired by Flavio Poli, making him a full partner. The name was changed to Seguso Vetri D’Arte-S.a.s. An initial period of great prosperity ensued, lasting until the outbreak of World War Two.

The post-war period was a time of great change in Europe. The rebuilding effort required major investments, leading to the introduction of new import duties and taxes. In order to safeguard ownership of the works, an application for a second entry into the commercial registers of Venice was made by the partners in 1945.

Strict regulations continued to restrict international travel and currency transfers until long after the war. Export was allowed only to a limited extent, determined by quota set from higher up. Company leadership decided to direct its attention to the domestic market. In 1946 a large sales area was opened on the Piazza Diaz in Milan, offering German porcelain and Italian earthenware as well as the in-house glass production.

In 1947 a semi-industrial production of pressed glass was started within the company under the name Cristalli Vivarini. This highly successful line was shut down around 1960. Nevertheless, the financial situation remained a cause for concern.

From 1950 onwards Flavio Poli begins to experiment with the sommerso technique, the overlaying of transparent layers of glass. The overlapping created new colours, while all layers remained strictly outlined in cross section. Poli’s most iconic shape, the valve, which can be likened to an upright, slightly opened clamshell, was created in 1951.

In 1953, Mario Pinzoni was hired as a personal assistant to Flavio Poli. As a draughtsman his responsibilities included the archival drawings and an inventory of the existing production in a single general catalogue.

Around the mid-fifties, the steadily growing prosperity in Europe brought financial security for the glass company. A second period of prosperity ensued, and Flavio Poli once again set out to experiment. His efforts were mainly focused on geometric decorations of molten-down pieces of glass. But contrary to the preceding sommersi none of these series proved commercially successful, and this colourful production was soon abandoned.

Poli returned to sommersi applications. Taut, simple shapes with new colour combinations of topaz and sapphire combined with violet consequently represented the glass company at the XI Triennale in Milan in 1957. The prosperous climate also manifested itself in the increasing number of colours used for a single object. Some of the objects from this period comprise no fewer than seven to eight transparent layers of colour, whereby the manual polishing of the shape further enhanced the price.

A shift in shares due to the passing of Napoleone Barovier and the withdrawal of Antonio Seguso as partner put Ernesto Seguso and Flavio Poli at the head of the works. Continuing conflicts with Bruno and Angelo Seguso on the artistic direction to be taken caused Flavio Poli to resign in 1963.

Mario Pinzoni took over the artistic leadership. He did introduce new colours and models, but maintained the basic technique – sommerso – as the company’s trademark. The costly effectuation of this technique and the increased competition caused the once so solid basis to come apart. The company did take part in major events, but did so using the remaining stock. Hardly any new models were introduced, and the use of colour was greatly reduced. Diminishing involvement led Pinzoni to leave the company in 1971, and a last designer made his entry: Vittorio Righattieri. But he too proved unable to turn the tide, and in 1973 Seguso Vetri D’Arte di Angelo Seguso e C. ceased its production.

The takeover by Maurizio Albarelli in 1978 proved the saving grace of the archive which had remained in place all along, and has today been distributed among the Fondazione Cini on San Giorgi and the Seguso family on Murano. The results of years of study based on this archive caught the eye of the Museo del Vetro on Murano (I) and the Design museum in Ghent (B). Together they put this important company – which once belonged to the three leading glass companies on Murano along with Venini and Barovier & Toso – back into the public eye.

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