Entering Delia Prvački’s solo exhibition “Cornucopia—of abundance and giving,” I was struck by the air of medieval art and life charmingly represented in mosaics, metalwork, ceramics, textiles, and ivories. Drawing on the opulent art of the Middle Ages, the Romania-born, Singapore-based artist focused on storytelling, composition, and richness of effect, her aesthetic preference for visual abundance most evident in her use of ornamentation. This is medieval “body language.” Decoration and narration, far more than realism, characterized these works.
The word “cornucopia,” the quality of abundance and nourishment, comes from the Latin cornu copiae, meaning “horn of plenty.” Prvački’s pieces surrounded various versions of the ornamental container, which dates from ancient Greece. Grand Classic Cornucopia (2020) took the celebrated horn as its starting point, overflowing with life-size fruit and vegetables spread out on a wooden tabletop. The viewer’s senses were immediately overwhelmed by the profusion of ceramic gourds, papayas, cabbages, beetroots, onions, radishes, garlic, and cauliflower set amid shards and bits of earthen crockery. The spectacle presented a masterful still-life.
EXUBERANT (Long Cornucopia) (2020) suggested the medieval fascination with small objects fashioned from precious materials and echoed the level of their technical skill and manual dexterity. Arrayed in loose series on a long trough, snaking strips of beads and colorful grains made of glazed stoneware, grog, and other materials crept out of a large horn, its bold and vibrant colors simulating gem-like effects. Tapestries and other textiles also featured prominently. A cornucopia motif sat on the richly designed DELICATE (2020), and in its reworking, Unicorn-Utopia #2 (2020), a pattern of sweeping silk folds (carved in glazed stoneware) flowed out from the ornamented container. The delicate, cornucopia-shaped elements of the ivory-toned Double Happiness (2020) and TRIPTYCH (2020)—pearly, lustrous, and vulnerable—tentatively rubbed up against one another, propped on pristine white surfaces or reflective glass mirrors, placed eye level on gallery walls.
Archaeology of Cornucopia (2020) and Allegory of a Myth (2021), together comprising an installation of three archaeologically inspired “troughs,” seemed to offer an instructive parable about the nature of Prvački’s sculptural work, which is driven by her interest in history, ethnography, and geology. Two of the troughs held a miscellaneous assortment of mosaics formed of numerous small colored cubes or irregularly shaped objects, their decorative designs and symbolism reminiscent of Byzantine and early Christian styles. The last composition featured over a dozen petite cornucopia motifs stuffed with what appear to be patterned fabrics. Made from glazed stoneware, stains, oxides, pigments, earth grog, and fabrics, among other materials, this installation, which the artist refers to as a “fictional archaeology museum,” alludes to how ceramics have been excavated, while also providing a sense of the aesthetic values of long-vanished peoples, fragments of ancient imaginations.
There was something engaging about Terracotta (2020)—maybe it was the appeal of the material (typically used for flower pots) and the impact it made on me at first sight, but I wanted to touch it and feel the textures. An overturned earthenware bowl spilled out a handful of small, shell-like pebbles onto a leather-hard, grid-like mosaic tabletop made up of hundreds of tiny, colored tiles.
Terracotta, All-Time Cornucopia (2021), and other works all employed the type of decorative mosaics that flourished from Roman times well into the Byzantine and medieval eras. As the eye moved across their surfaces, there were pleasurable relations of color, tone, and shape to explore—a juxtaposition of red and green patches or an opposition of orange and violet in the manner of a folk textile. Equally significant was the inclusion into the entire sculptural ensemble of a suspended, mirror-like stainless steel cone that reflected colored “rays” from the mosaics and exuded dynamic energy. The shapes, colors, and materials within “Cornucopia—of abundance and giving” evoked the rich history of the decorative arts, particularly those of the Middle Ages, revitalized by Prvački who has brought medieval “body language” into contact with new materials and current lived experience.