Design as art

Beppe Finessi

When art meets everyday life, when companies/shops/galleries enter into a dialogue with artists, when designers work as artists, when the primary objective is no longer, or is not merely, the comfiness of a chair, the height of a table, the capacity of a container, then change can occur, and forms and typologies and shapes that over the centuries have come to seem usual and proper can be transformed: this is the case, these are the cases, of a tri-colored story which it is pleasant to at least outline, remembering events that didn’t always make the front page, but only because the press is often short-sighted.
This tri-colored story doesn’t begin at any certain moment; over the years, rather, the story found certain special moments at which it could begin to define itself. A story written by several outsider protagonists: Carlo Bugatti at the beginning of the century, then Fortunato Depero, then Carlo Mollino, then Gio Ponti, then Bruno Munari. Much has been said and written about each of them, for their contributions to, among other things, the interplay of art and design. A story further developed by other designers, artists, entrepreneurs, publishers, gallerists. But it’s also a story of places, geographies.
In mid-60s Turin, on the outskirts of the Arte Povera movement, a group of dashing designers had begun a dialogue with a new company, Gufram, which was open to “different” thought processes and was able to present a collection that accomodated… gently, casually…the words and things of Ceretti/Derossi/Rosso, of Studio 65, of Guido Drocco and Franco Mello, as well as the bona fide art of Piero Gilardi, which somehow instantly became home decor.  “Design rock”, someone wrote, thinking back on that revolutionary season of bodies, vitamins and harmonies.
Between Turin, where he got his start, and Milan, where he always lived, an internationally famous master, a leading figure through the 60s, 70s and 80s…and on through the present day: Ettore Sottsass, the legend, able to confound any attempt at critical categorization, free in spirit, needs, desires. Also a guru/catalyst for many young people seeking their own identities: in the 60s with the firm Poltronova, when he wrote a catalog of objects/sculptures that still represent milestones in the history of the relationship between art and design; and in the 80s with Memphis, which renewed the dispute with the established order, and which singlehandedly defeated the jacket-and-tie industrialists’ flat horizons.
In Bologna, in the 70s, an unusual entrepreneur, Dino Gavina, a “subversive” by vocation, was among the first to try to rediscover links with art by immediately choosing to dialogue with the greats, the greatest: Marcel Duchamp and Lucio Fontana, and then Sebastian Matta, Man Ray and Meret Oppenheim.
In Meda, in the heart of the Brianza region, another entrepreneur, Cesare Cassina–curious and decidely modern in outlook, viscerally attached to what was new–was among the first supporters of that unique character, Gaetano Pesce, the master of the “diversified series” and the poet of “imperfection”.
Also in Brianza, another thoroughbred entrepreneur, Aurelio Zanatto, was able to instantly grasp the shocking poetry of Gatti/Paolini/Teodoro’s “Sacco” and turn it into a bestseller. In the 80s, he launched the “Zabro” collection of objects/artworks by Riccardo Dalisi, Andrea Branzi, Corrado Levi, Alik Cavaliere and Alessandro Mendini.
In the early 90s, to cultivate a reflowering of those heroic years in which production by the “workshop” went hand in hand with that of artists, Tecno presented the ABV collection, with works by Getulio Alviani, Agenore Fabbri, Carlo Mo, Arnaldo Pomodoro, François e Frédéric Morellet, Luigi Veronesi, among others.
Other free-thinkers, unique characters and decidedly NOT team-players, pass through these five decades as leading interdisciplinary figures: Enzo Mari, Nanda Vigo, Ugo La Pietra. Through the years, dozens of books have given their monumental work the recognition it deserves.
Then, in the middle of this story’s course, here is what you hold in your hands and what you see before you: “Megalopoli”, a precious jewel, unusual and refined, which returns today with the force of things that can’t be forgotten, with a profoundly original identity, made by many free, experimental spirits who’ve left their fingerprints, tracks and memories, which needed to be re-traced. To complete the story of the lines above.

Beppe Finessi

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