By PAUL LASTER, June 2018
A former actress and socialite turned artist and designer, Ira von Fürstenberg creates marvelous objects of desire. Working with fine craftsmen and exotic materials, the Italian-born princess draws upon the inspiration of her continuous travels around the world to capture the essence of her encounters for eternity in stone.
With a show titled Objets Uniques (Unique Objects) in the Imperial Apartments of the Royal Palace at the Museo Correr in Venice, the artist celebrates 20 years of creating traditional works of art in a slightly postmodern way. The intimate exhibition, curated and designed by the Italian stage director Pier Luigi Pizzi for the museum’s plush galleries, presents 80 stylish sculptures that transform typical artifacts and souvenirs into unique, opulent objects.
“I started by making presents for friends, and it just evolved,” the princess shared with Whitehot at the museum. “In the beginning there were boxes and frames and paper pieces, but I always liked rock crystal so I started making more elaborate works. Now I’m using porphyry, which the Greeks and Romans used, but next it might be alabaster. The subjects are things I buy while traveling and copy in these more precious materials.”
Dragons, sea creatures, skulls, snakes, animals, bowls, columns, candelabras and crosses are fashioned in purple porphyry and frosty rock crystal and then embellished with gilded bronze details and semi-precious gemstones. Although the subjects have roots in art history and mythology, the artist chooses them for aesthetic reasons—seeking tabletop forms that convey a sense of wonderment and materials that have healing properties.
The legendary Pizzi, who has directed operas at most of the major opera houses in Europe and designed sets and costumes for film and theater, constructed elegant display units for the artworks. Each chandelier-lit gallery has a pyramid-like structure, which consists of an octagon base topped by a middle square shelf and then by a smaller square unit, with each section being a light box with mirrored sides. One room offers the rock crystal pieces, while the other displays the objects in porphyry.
“By arranging the pieces by materials and genres I was able to create a dramatic display and adapt the exhibition to the rooms of the former palace,” Pizzi told us. “It’s important that these objects have the right atmosphere, both from the point of view of light, which is why I covered the windows, and from the surrounding space. The room with the porphyry pieces has a chandelier with brass and gold and grandly framed mirrors, while the room with the rock crystal works has Murano glass all around, which communicates with the objects.”
Pizzi and Von Fürstenberg met on the set of one of her films. Born in Rome in 1940, she was discovered by the famous Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis when she was 26 and acted in films for the next 15 years. The daughter of Tassilo von Fürstenberg, a member of an Austrian aristocratic family, and Clara Agnelli, the granddaughter of Giovanni Agnelli, the Italian manufacturer and founder of Fiat, she was married at 15 to Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who founded the Spanish resort Marbella Club, and later to Francisco "Baby" Pignatari, a Brazilian playboy and industrialist.
After an acting and modelling career, she worked with cosmetics company Germaine Monteil and then as head of the perfume division at Valentino. She later helped her friend Antoine Chenevière set up a shop selling Russian antiques, first in Geneva, where she has a home, and then in London. The pair traveled the world like gypsies, which is why the shop was named Tzigany—Russian for gypsies. Her brother is Prince Egon, the first husband of fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg.
As The New Yorker columnist and art critic Calvin Tomkins once wrote about the American artist Gerald Murphy and his wife Sara, “Living Well Is the Best Revenge.” Rather than retreating into retirement or resting on her laurels, Ira von Fürstenberg continues to live a rich and adventurous life, while all the time vigorously pursuing her artistic passions. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author