An article in yesterday's Style section gave the wrong address for the Keith Lipert Gallery. It is located at 2922 M St. NW. (Published 10/03/1999)
It looks like a silver totem or Tower of Babel. But it's a tea and coffee service with pots, sugar bowl and creamer stacked on top of one another and designed by the Italian silversmith Olga Finzi.
This piece and many others in a show of Italian silver design take "tea for two" to new heights and flights of fantasy. The show, "Triumph of Italian Modern Silver Design," at the Keith Lipert Gallery in Georgetown, includes 75 pieces in sterling silver by well-known Italian furniture designers, architects and silversmiths.
Many of the pieces are tea and coffee sets, but there are also sleek modern pitchers, vases, trays and candlesticks. They are highly styled, approaching abstract sculpture. Many play with optical illusion and the reflective qualities of silver.
"Italian silver is just drop-dead," says R. Craig Miller, the curator of architecture, design and graphics at the Denver Art Museum. He acquired about 20 of these limited-edition objects for his museum about five years ago.
"Italian silver blurs the line between between industrial design and decorative design," he says. "It allows all these incredible architects to work in silver, and silver is a beautiful, wonderful material.
"That's where the Italians are so fantasic," he continues. "They don't worry about those parameters."
The show was curated by Lucio Iezzi, an Italian architect and silversmith. The objects were made from the late 1970s through the present by 26 different people, mostly architects by training. Several are world-famous furniture designers, including Ettore Sottsass who achieved fame designing typewriters and other products for Olivetti before turning to furniture.
After World War II, as Italy reeled from the devastation of war, Italian design was promoted as one of the paths to economic recovery. Architects went to work designing automobiles, typewriters and furniture, and bringing Italy to the pinnacle of Western postmodern design. Some of those famous designers have also turned their eye to silver and its possibilities.
The crossover between architecture, design, the decorative arts and sculpture -- which continues to this day -- is obvious in this show. Many of the pieces, although ostensibly functional are not really meant for use. They are intended for display.
Take Gabriele De Vecchi's "air kiss" vases, two almost flat vessels resembling faces blowing kisses in the wind ($900 each). Or Finzi's pitcher, which more closely resembles a flower with petals ($8,700). A vase by Fernando Cacchione, "Mandolino," looks like accordion bellows in a gourd shape ($5,300). Another by Giuliano Malimpensa, with two semicircular parts held together by short sticks of Venetian glass, resembles a satellite in space. The openings for flowers are barely visible ($6,000).
Many of the artists play with the reflections of silver and how they change our perceptions of both ourselves and the objects. A vase by De Vecchi , which reflects the bookcase on which it stands, creates an optical illusion in which the vase looks Mondrian-like, as if it has stripes. The vase by Malimpensa changes our own reflection as if we were in a house of mirrors."The beauty of the pieces is in their ability to change our perceptions of ourselves through reflection," says Keith Lipert, the gallery owner. "You have to talk about line when you speak of these works. Without question they're works of art."
Says his wife, Louise: "The artists push the boundaries. A lot of thinking goes into the pieces but along with the innovation is playfulness."
Each piece bears the European hallmark of sterling silver as well as the signature or stamp of the artist. Some of the objects are on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Lipert says. They can be ordered; prices range from $415 for a silver tray by De Vecchi in the shape of a profiled face to $15,000 for the "Manhattan"tea set by Finzi.
The show continues at the gallery, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW, through Nov. 15 and then travels to Los Angeles.