precious memories

Cristina Acidini
Superintendent of the State Museums of Florence

Paola Crema’s artistic inspiration for every new theme of hers never stops amazing for the variety of techniques and solutions, even though there is a coherence that unites everything.
The precious, unique pieces that make up this exhibition, successfully hosted in the Porcelain Museum upon the initiative of its Director, Ornella Casazza, with the decisive collaboration of the architect Mauro Linari, favours a particularly intense immersion into the artist’s world. It is not by chance that I use the word “immersion”, since a sensation of shimmering water characterises all the objects on display, not only and not just for the use of pearls, mother-of-pearl and corals, but also and perhaps above all for the idea of belonging to a different culture – one which is latent and mysterious that could very well be defined as a sort of Atlantis (stealing a theme from Crema’s imagery). I mean, an Atlantis familiar to us, where Florentine is spoken: an Arno Atlantis, where centuries ago the assistants and followers of Benvenuto Cellini and Bernardo Buontalenti (let us consider them as a new race of tritons, resembling the scaly and gilled, though harmless, ones by Pietro Tacca) can be found, still working in watery caverns from where they magically send to the opposites shores of the Arno cups, salt shakers, candelabras and all kinds of wonders.
A noteworthy technical ability, especially in the working of silver in grains, in pebbles, in hollow clusters of organic plasticism, serves imaginative lavishness – lavishness nurtured, however, with a profoundly assimilated figurative culture, thanks to her untiring investigation of anything that is not just beautiful, but also encloses within its beauty an obscure hint of the bizarre, of an excess, of a dream about to turn into a nightmare. And so the shell that generates a human face seems like an “allegory” that escaped from a painting by Giovanni Bellini, and the compositions of pearly oyster valves with rock crystals give rise to the erudite and fascinating aura of a modern-day Wunderkammer.
An internationally renowned artist, Paola, along with her husband Roberto Fallani, has chosen to work and live in Florence. And of this choice, which allows us to host her works in the garden that once belonged to Grand Dukes and Kings in an amicable and natural contiguity with her research, we are truly grateful.

Ornella Casazza
Director of the Museum of the Silvers and Porcelain Museum

For Paola Crema the art of the past may still proudly reveal something vital in every direction its memory recuperates and runs through with the evocativeness of remembering: archaic memories resurface in these precious works and bizarre mother-of-pearl creations at the Porcelain Museum in Palazzo Pitti.
The more “emotional” stages in this course were in museums, and above all at the Museo degli Argenti of Palazzo Pitti in contact with the objects that the property inventories of Lorenzo the Magnificent mention as “Indian-style” handmade works, or ones from “New Spain” (as Mexico was once called), thus establishing with the permanent ancient collections a stimulating dialogue where harmony and difference come together.
Materials and forms, the splendours of royal palaces that progressively took shape in her soul, become basic characteristics of her artistic uniqueness and therefore a distinctive trait.
It is precisely from here that her new course begins: the material yields to her will and the vibrations of her complex interior life blend together and identify with the beauty of her creations in mother-of-pearl, natural pearls, jade, crystal, the metallic glimmer of silver in figurations that “call to mind mythological metamorphoses”, as has been underlined by Paola Luciani, her attentive critic and biographer, in discussing the marvellous jewels Paola Crema has recently donated to the new permanent display of Contemporary Jewellery at the Museo degli Argenti.
Once again she proposes the leitmotiv of her sculpting poetics and “carries out an extraordinary mimesis of reality, courageously emphasising the entity of mother-of-pearl, easily moving from experimentation of evident realistic descriptivism to meditations and evocations of symbolist culture” (P. Luciani, “Paola Crema”, in Sculture da indossare, ed. O. Casazza, Pisa 2007, p. 47).
Her works play upon the modification of the form and the symbiosis of one material with another. Upon finding a fragment of nature, the fascinating guardian of archaic memories, she combines silver incrustations, rock crystal and red coral from which emerge solemn sea divinities with a realistic face that is no longer monstrous, maintaining all the same apotropaic meaning and magical powers against evil forces, dialoguing with the observer who may draw upon memories of the past of lost eras.
Fantasies of watery worlds, where biological evolution began that mysterious process that uninterruptedly renews the miracle of life, are evoked through complex elaboration and choice of materials that thanks to their precious colour effects and hues provoke new original sensations even when a work of hers may seem to resemble something already expressed. In short, her work is still able to recreate a new, fascinating and possible competition between Nature and Art.
And so it is not surprising that these “sculptures” have called for various combinations, faces that recreate in our imagination an ancient performance. It is also of no surprise to find these immortalised together before the most striking European porcelains housed in the Palazzina known as “del Cavaliere”, at the top of the Boboli Gardens.

The Prehensile Gaze
Giuliano Serafini

Between pure ornament and sculpture, the work of Paola Crema has never been able to renounce, in the act, a longing for the hybrid, for intermingling, for evocative and oftentimes prodigious pastiche. A sort of dizziness or syndrome that if it belongs to the past – and all this can be verified in these works presented at the Porcelain Museum– it finds in the important and monumental plastic production of recent works in bronze its paradigmatic explication, its natural point of arrival.
All the great styles “of transition”, such as mannerism – the messenger of baroque – or art nouveau that with its spontaneous convergence into deco paved the way to the modern, or rather, to the aesthetic awareness of that which is modern, are connoted with this ambiguity of form and therefore of the “perversion” of a dimension we generically call “classical”, and which just as generically responds to the institutional criteria of balance between the parts, of symmetrical order, of rigor in proportions, in short, of the sacrosanct “canon”.
Instead, the fantastical requires – always – breaking the rules of plastic invention, looking more to “expressionistic” worth, even though we may deal with, as in Paola Crema’s case, ornamental objects that in turn directly derive from the creation of jewellery that is not presented here.
And so we return to that urgency to intermingle styles, materials and forms that has as its common denominator (therefore a ‘rule’ here as well?) in the dynamic striving it nourishes upon, in the metamorphic potential it necessitates in order to manifest itself.
Freud wrote: “Happiness draws upon the present, while meaning, the past”, an aphorism that confirms nothing if only the eternal antinomy between nature and culture, and which Pierre Hadot, in Le voile d’Isis, intentionally acknowledges as belonging to the dualism between the Orphean practice (that of poetry and art) and the Promethean practice (that of science and rationality). All so in some way nature can “answer” us.
A quote that is not so far-fetched to call into play for these works by Paola Crema: the factor of happiness and therefore of the present which happiness requires in order to unfold and subsist clearly translates into the highly hedonistic component of the work. And so the “meaning” and therefore time and myth the work itself apparently alludes to constitute its symbolic and symbolist aspect.
And in effect, as part of this dilemma, in the irreducibleness of the terms, nature-culture, we find the creations of Paola Crema, heirs of a gaze that has traversed the most outmoded antique styles but, if one might say, always avant-garde, throughout her experience that preceded and paved the way for her career as an artist.
Her eye has always investigated the gaps of that which is beautiful, prehensile and forerunning, inexorable in aesthetic and revealing detection, thereby reducing the experience and the emotion of the moment into a highly eclectic product that resembles an acquired right, a necessity one has to come to terms with, sooner or later.
An infallible instinct has allowed her to collect that which is excellent, that which is “different”, even though this choice may call for a thanatologic taste, in any event themes alluding to a loss, a nostalgia of the past, to such an evident inauthenticity that it cannot help but encroach on symbols, as if by elective affinities.
It is at the base of this ancient visual practice that these amazing syntheses where the figurative element, which can almost always be detected, surfaces and emerges, almost a trompe-l’oeil, from the shining mass of silver tricklings, from flakes of quartz, amethyst and coral, from layers of pearls that seem to boast of their origin, as if all appears to us layered according to its own geological phenomenology and revealing itself at the very moment it is unearthed.
Enigmatic are the neutral masks, marine and ctonic divinities, medusas and sphinxes that Paola Crema elaborates from a single stereotype, sumptuously crowned by nautilus, margaritifera shells and by mirror shells and mother-of-pearl discs that compare themselves with the brilliance of silver, borrowing from it reflection and shininess, but also physical and material consistency, becoming a perceptive adventure for the gaze (but also for touching– a temptation, we must admit, that is rather strong in the observer).
In short, the artist initiates us to an inexhaustible journey, renewed every time, across a seductive, jumbled universe, remote and impassible, where the meaning Freud spoke about seems emptied of the excess of meanings that the history of art and taste, just like myth, literature and our collective memory, impose upon it. But art, and Paola Crema knows this quite well, is always “elsewhere”.

The Metamorphosis of Remembrance
Dora Liscia Bemporad

Her love for Florence, her activity as an antique dealer and gallerist and, last but not least, a collector of contemporary jewellery are but a few of the factors that underpin the oeuvre of Paola Crema. But above all, there is a deep understanding of the past that continuously surfaces and solicits curiosity and memory in constant cross-reference, becoming a fascinating and enthralling game. This is why Paola Crema (despite her intolerance towards those who allowed Florence to be harmed, something she has always felt strongly about) has her roots deeply embedded in the city’s culture, since she has absorbed one of its most meaningful concepts: or rather, that any work made by man, regardless of the materials that compose it and the category it depends upon, deserves to belong to the world of art. Marsilio Ficino wrote in his Theologia Platonica that “all works of art pertaining to sight and sound are the fruit of the entire mind of the artist”, without any discrimination. This notion was championed by the Lords of Florence, who knew how to put on equal footing the noble arts and those, though of secondary importance, that were nonetheless the outcome of extraordinary invention. Remaining but briefly tied to the analysis of the past (yet an unavoidable point of departure in Paola Crema’s work), the patrons were able to appreciate art in its academic aulicness . . . and, above all, in its originality based upon nature and the imagination of artists.
If we were to single out the genesis of Paola Crema’s art, I believe we are obliged to refer to that incredible period called mannerism, not so much in its etymological acceptation as in its ability to be in discordant harmony with nature and materials. In the plastic works of the artist, especially her bronzes, what is evident is the bond with a few sculptures by Giambologna, such as for example Appennine Colossus in the Pratolino park, where Grand Duke Francescoi and Bernardo Buontalenti applied their ideals of artificial art and bizarre nature in one of the greatest masterpieces of the late sixteenth century. In others, where objects or animals are an integral part of eccentric forms, the reference to the fantastical inventions of Giuseppe Arcimboldo or Tribolo is equally evident. The face of the figure that by transforming itself into squared surfaces becomes transparent crystals, similar to Egyptian obelisks, call to mind the alchemical experiments that aimed to melt rock crystal, a focal point around which late sixteenth-century pseudo science revolved, just like hermit crabs that distil pearls to create the very structure of precious chalices, freely quoting the liturgical art created by the goldsmith Cosimo Merlini during the first half of the following century. But at the same time, the observer recalls cubist experimentation and the sculptures of Boccioni that, in any event, drew inspiration from the same historical periods.
The materials are not worked or elaborated according to a plan, but are used in their physical qualities and natural characteristics – an integration and not a framework to the plastic parts. This metamorphic power, which Paola Crema recognises in natural objects, becomes the tool of her willingness to express herself. And so relatively precious materials like mother-of-pearl are enhanced in the splendour of the surfaces and in the rarity, rather than for their intrinsic value, or the colour and shiny effect are used to allude to the opalescence of the wings of butterflies or to precious stones.
In this, Paola Crema, being the cultured person she is, did not draw upon certain moments of artistic tradition by copying the solutions of others. Instead, she has adapted a stylistic method to her own sensibility. And so the attention of art nouveau to the metamorphosis of figures or that of symbolism for a restless and unreal metaphysical world are certainly food for thought, but it is completely personalised in an autonomous and easily recognisable style.
This authentic originality can also be found in her preference for certain materials. In jewellery, the artist does not love gold, since silver, cold and lunar, contrasts better with the colour of jade, semiprecious stones, pearls, all the while becoming a whole with them.
The references are endless, but it is precisely for this that the work of Paola Crema is absolutely original, not only for the continuous experimentation of materials, but also for the ways in which they are used. Originality – not in eccentricity but in the ability to evoke familiar and at the same time new references, abandonment and abruptness, peace and restlessness. Hers is a play of contrasts that urges us to go beyond visual experience, since touching for the observer has the same power to make us understand. Touching the surfaces, which from the smoothness of faces becomes the roughness of the pearls, the coldness of the metal to the warmth of the mother-of-pearl, for the hardness of the silver and the softness of the shells provoke the same sensations as understanding in the mind.
For all these reasons, the art of Paola Crema cannot have followers or imitators. It is unrepeatable and independent, because it is the fruit of her being herself, with all the knowledge and human and intellectual experiences she has inherited. 

precious memories