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A Journey From Neoclassicism to Modernism Essay

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Updated: Feb 21st, 2022

Introduction

By offering an attempt at merging Neoclassicism with Modernism, Gio Ponti’s “Bottle with Stopper” provides a way of reconfiguring the relationships between form and function in art. Namely, with his focus on the utility of objects as the endeavor to integrate new principles of urban design into the development of household objects, the artist managed to create the artwork that represented a compromise between originality, everyday use, and aesthetic expressivity (Dellapiana 24). The resulting creation managed to capture the attention of numerous critics, receiving the response that was homogenously positive.

Analysis

Tracking down the elements of Modernism in the “Bottle with Stopper”, one will have to pay close attention to the color scheme used by the artist first. Namely, the propensity toward the use of a fairly simple design and a modest number of colors. Indeed, the form of the art object in question is almost basic, with very few elements that could challenge the traditional perception of a bottle as a household item. In turn, the proportions of certain elements of the bottle can be considered the area where the art piece in question is expected to address the values of Neoclassicism and challenge the viewer (Forino 3). Specifically, the unexpectedly long neck of the bottle, which serves no functional purpose, can be considered an endeavor at exploring the further development of the relationships between form and function. Taking the traditional form of a bottle and changing it into something that does not quite meet the definition of grotesque, yet borders the viewers’ concept of traditionalism, the specified design allows for further experimentation (Dal Falco 2). Namely, the neck of the bottle in “Bottle with Stopper. 1948” helps to distance the artwork from the traditional image of a bottle far enough to emphasize the transformation yet leaves it close enough to the prototype to maintain the resemblance.

The emphasis on the principles of the urbanistic design have also allowed adding a substantial amount of personality to the art piece in question. Particularly, with the focus on the lack of excessively and the promotion of utility as the foundational quality of art objects, urban design of the time promoted laconism in the choice of form and restraint in the amount and extent of expressivity (Ponzio 335). As a result, the elements that may trick the audience into admiring the artist’s daring choices are restricted to the proportions of the object and its color scheme.

Indeed, paying closer attention to the choices of the color palette used for the “Bottle with Stopper,” one will recognize the minimalism that defined Gio Ponti’s style. Namely, the color scheme of the “Bottle with Stopper” is reduced to two main colors, specifically, the white and the brown represented in the art piece in question represent the boldness and innovativeness of the artist’s aesthetics (Rossi and Buratti 69). The contrast between the colors, with the white embodying almost heavenly purity, and the brown leaving room for contemplations, helps to stir the audience’s interest toward the artwork.

Furthermore, the absence of excessiveness in the design of the bottle, as well as its contained, modest form, are also quite indicative of the influence of Modernism. The specified approach allowed the artist to incorporate the traditional form, at the same time experimenting with it and exploring how it could be altered to imbue it with new meanings (Di Robilant 192). The change in the proportion of the neck length to the size of the bottle itself can be used as the most evident example of the specified design choice. However, the willingness to experiment with the traditional form can also be found when considering the stopper itself.

While often discarded as a complementary element of the art piece, which is rather ironic given the fact that the stopper is in the name of the artwork, the stopper allows adding uniqueness to the choice of form. Specifically, Ponti has chosen to use the white color for the stopper in order to juxtapose it to the dominant brown, as well as to lock the brown in its position, which was in the middle of the art piece. As a result, the artwork gained the sense of completion and the sense of geometric accuracy, which also contributed to its connection to the Modernist tradition (Malone 40). Therefore, the “Bottle with Stopper” gained the distinctive characteristics of the Modernist era.

However, the signs of Neoclassicism, which defined Gio Ponti’s works as well, have also shaped the art piece in question, and especially the relation between the form and function in it. Specifically, the contradiction between the specified notions is also present in the art piece in question, which aligns with Neoclassical principles of artistic expression (Malone 99). Namely, disproportionate nature of the elements of the bottle represents the Neoclassical approach toward experimentation with the form.

At the same time, Ponti evidently tries to connect the elements of Neoclassicism and Modernism in his art piece in the way that allows the contradicting aspects of the two movements to coexist. For instance, the Neoclassicist negligence of the function that an art piece plays is shifted toward the idea of experimenting with the utility of the form (Cresci 95). Namely, the changes in the proportions of the artwork are not seen as contradictory to its use but, instead, are represented as an elegant solution to the task of combining the intended purpose of the object and an inimitable aesthetics that the artist is trying to incorporate into it.

The transition from Utilitarianism to Modernism and back, which the “Bottle with Stopper” represents, would not be possible without the introduction of the elements of urbanism into the art piece. Although the specified solution was not unusual for the time period, the idea of focusing on the urbanistic philosophy and viewing it as a source of inspiration was still in its conception stage (Malone 32). Therefore, the focus on the development of an art piece that had a distinctively urbanistic flair about it was a challenging choice that allowed making the work clearly unique and immediately recognizable.

In addition, the focus on self-consciousness as a part of the conceptual framework of the “Bottle with Stopper” reinforces the Modernist influence, allowing it to merge with the Neoclassicist ideas incorporated into the artwork. The presence of self-consciousness in the “Bottle with Stopper” can be tracked down by considering the elaboration with which the materials for the art piece, the colors, and the shape were chosen (Rossi and Buratti 71). As mentioned above, the selection of the form allowed Modernism and Neoclassicism to collide in the “Bottle with Stopper,” making it a timeless representation of the fusion of the two movements. However, apart from the specified characteristic, other features of the art piece serve to point to the compatibility of Modernism and Neoclassicism.

The use of the material for the “Bottle with Stopper” helped Gio Ponti to amplify the importance of his initial message, which mainly promoted the idea of utility being combined with artistic expressivity. Namely, the use of incalmo glass has helped to connect the old tradition of Neoclassicism to the boldness of the Modernist approach with its focus on experimenting with color. The incalmo technique, which traces its origin back to the ancient era, suggests that different parts of a glass vessel are connected by applying heat to the point of their juncture (Elleh 6). Therefore, Ponti’s endeavor to use the approach that follows a thousand-year-long tradition allows connecting the art object in question to the movement of Neoclassicism. The focus on tradition coexisting with the concept of experiments and innovation, which Neoclassicism suggests, allows including the aspects of Modernism such as the reconsideration of the form and function.

Moreover, the size of the artwork is indicative of how bold Gio Ponti’s experimentation with form and function was. Namely, when looking at the art piece without any scale for perspective, one will hardly realize that the artwork displays any differences from the object that it is supposed to represent. However, on further scrutiny, the fact that its size is roughly 3.2×3.2 inches will be revealed. The comparatively small size of the artwork allows one to mentally distance oneself from the traditionally large-scale objects with which Ponti worked, namely, buildings and sculptures, and focus on the idea that the author attempted at conveying with the help of the artwork. Namely, the “Bottle with Stopper” is expected to evoke the sense of insignificance, thus causing one to ponder over deeply philosophical ideas of the meaning of self and people’s place in the universe (Di Robilant 188). Thus, the scale and size of the “Bottle with Stopper” also contributes to building the experience of interacting with an art piece that incorporates Modernist and Neoclassicist ideas. Specifically, the Modernist need for self-reflection collides with the rigidity of the Neoclassicist idea of following the traditional framework while introducing only slight changes.

Therefore, the dichotomy of the form and function, as well as the reconciliation between the Modernist and the Neoclassicist approach are the main pillars on which the artwork in question stands. What makes the “Bottle with Stopper” such an fantastic art piece worth consideration and in-depth analysis is its implied meaning, Drenched in contradictions between Modernism and Neoclassicism, the artwork still manages to incorporate them in a unique and balanced way, which allows for an unusual arrangement of the formal elements, such a color, shape, and size (Castanò and Mingione 2). Particularly, the color scheme and the materials can be considered a symbolic representation of the complexity of the idea that Gio Ponti incorporated into this art piece. As a result, the artwork becomes particularly meaningful and expressive, which, in turn, helps to accentuate the original approach that Ponti took in order to create it.

Conclusion

Representing an attempt at marrying the ideas of Neoclassicism and Modernism, the “Bottle with Stopper” can be considered one of the trademark creations of Gio Ponti and the cornerstone artwork of the era./ Despite its seeming simplicity, it allowed the artist to breathe a new life into the relationships between the form and function, thus introducing a daring and inspiring art piece. Despite the seemingly traditional use of the color palette, the artwork challenges the audience’s perspective with the unique approach toward creating a form that expresses its utility, at the same time embracing elegance.

Works Cited

Castanò, Francesca, and Giangaspare Mingione. “The Space Narrated. The Stained Glass Windows of Pietro Chiesa in the Early Twentieth Century.” Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute Proceedings, vol. 1, no. 9, 2017, pp. 1-9.

Cresci, Edoardo. “Piero Bottoni. Three Houses on the Tyrrhenian Sea.” Regionalism, Nationalism & Modern Architecture, vol. 1, 2018, pp. 91-100.

Dal Falco, Federica. “Italian Rationalist Design: Modernity between Tradition and Innovation.” Arts, vol. 8, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-40.

Dellapiana, Elena. “Italy Creates. Gio Ponti, America and the Shaping of the Italian Design Image.” Res Mobilis: Revista Internacional de Investigación en Mobiliario y Objetos Decorativos, vol. 7, no. 8, 2018, pp. 19-48.

Di Robilant, Manfredo. “The Aestheticization of Mechanical Systems: Gio Ponti’s Montecatini Headquarters, Milan, 1936–39.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 77, no. 2, 2018, pp. 186-203.

Elleh, Nnamdi. Architecture and Politics in Nigeria: The Study of a Late Twentieth-Century Enlightenment-Inspired Modernism at Abuja, 1900–2016. Taylor & Francis, 2016.

Forino, Imma. “The Italian Office Desk: ‘Mass Production and One-Off Piece’ towards the Modernity.” Convergências: Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes, vol. 13, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-11.

Malone, Patrick. Architecture, Mentalities and Meaning. Routledge, 2017.

Ponzio, Angelica. “The [Latin] Modernism of Ponti, Costa and Barragán.” Regionalism, Nationalism & Modern Architecture, vol. 1, 2018, pp. 330-341.

Rossi, M., and G. Buratti. “From Decoration to Industrial Design: Gio Ponti and Color in Architectural Innovation.” Color, Culture, and Science, vol. 1, no. 1, 2018, pp. 67-76.

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