(Italiano) Megalopoli di Agneta Holst

Philippe Daverio
May 2011

Perhaps the 80s of the last century really roared. They certainly roared in New York, where it was discovered that all you had to do to turn young people into spendthrifts was give them a lot of money. They roared in Paris, where they were getting ready to celebrate the bicentennial of the Revolution, and meanwhile a socialist president had been elected; therefore intellectual adolescents started wearing dark gray again, as if they were existentialists and if the world could once more be conquered in French. They roared in Italy because, as usual, the situation was out of control: we were emerging from the Years of Lead and entering those years in which Milan would theoretically become drinkable. And we already knew that drinking makes one drunk. But Milan’s decade roared like a lazy tomcat, not exactly glorious, but not stupid either. The city was coming out of a decade that was really, truly and rightly depressive. The bombing of Piazza Fontana, the murder of Aldo Moro, the kidnappings, the whole a combination of strategies still obscure, had canceled the gay mood of the reconstruction and the exhilarating spirit which had ferried the post-war years through the first design creations on to the provocations of the visual arts through the social liberation proclaimed in 1968. The Sessantottini…Generation 68…were the children of Fontana and Manzoni, of the Castiglionis and Zanuso. Newly grown children who invented the inflatabe armchairs that rolled down the stairwells of the occupied Triennale hall, who flounced in the Sacco armchair, or the baseball glove chair, Joe. L’imagination au pouvoir. It didn’t last long; the second proclamation came immediately: rien ne va plus. Of course, in the gray years that followed, the flame of aesthetic and intellectual playfulness was kept alight by the gurus: Ettore Sottsass, who discovered the colors of India; the Mendinis, who promoted the irony of the imagination; the ever-critical Dino Gavina, who edited Duchamp and Man Ray with Ultramobile…while in Florence, the Sleeping Beauty, as such, immune to the disastrous flood, Superstudio attempted the impossible and Poltronova followed, drawing more attention than actual sales. In Milan, the declaration of the Pax Politica, which concealed, it’s true, the seeds of the catastrophes that followed, was enthusiastically greeted. On the other hand, the arts aren’t responsible for the prince’s moral corruption. And Milan resumed its status as the world capital of creativity. The lesson of the past had been, in a profound way, substantially didactic. One no longer thought of the forced separation of the arts. The bell of a new Futurism rang and with it, unaware, the futurist manifesto for the reconstruction of the universe had been reinstated, the same one that had, in 1915, sanctioned the fusion of the arts formerly considered major and the arts that were, according to the Chamber of Commerce, applied “to Industry”. In this new version, industry became industriousness, as futurism had become futurible. Artemide had put its productive force into play with a workshop called Memphis, where Ettore Sottsass cultivated the seeds of a new generation of de Lucchis and Cibics. But the most unexpected experiments were conducted in more secret laboratories. One of these was Agneta Holst’s. She was well-placed to collect guinea pigs and test-tubes. Her relationship with the collective photographic eye of the Ballos were directly related to her relationship with Oliviero Toscani. Her own culture was genetically cosmopolitan. The relationships she’d already cultivated flowered immediately into a world where research architecture had lost its commissions and the visual arts were searching for a way to outdistance those avant-garde modes already languishing in the Academy. Several of the period’s most creative architects, those who hadn’t found a place in the new workshops, were building drawings, if not paintings on canvas. That was the case, as shown or promoted in other areas, for Aldo Rossi, as it was for Arduino Cantafora and Massimo Scolari. Many others had the good fortune, with Agneta Holst, including Mauro Lovi, to have their inventions spring from their canvases directly into the factories’ hands. Thus began a course where the balance of form and ethics between art and design was indifferent. The permeation from one area to the other was absolutely natural, and didn’t involve superiority complexes, but merely the joy of doing. The course was, at the same time, playful, intellectual and creative. Riproporre oggi quell’esperienza d’un quarto di secolo fa non è affatto l’ultimo atto d’una riscoperta del modernariato. E’ all’opposto un desiderio legittimo di rientrare nel dibattito in corso. La questione recente è invero assai equivoca: il mercato dell’arte si trova a corto di materiali nuovi da proporre e che siano tuttora suscettibili di sorprendere. Ha compiuto quindi il passo più evidente andando a cercare energie nel vasto mondo del design; ha tentato di trasformare i prodotti del design in merce adatta agli appetiti commerciali del cursus honorum precedente il parnaso delle case d’asta, e per un certo verso c’è riuscito.
Re-presenting this quarter-century old experience is hardly the last act of a re-discovery of modernariato (modern antiques). On the contrary, it’s a legitimate wish to re-enter the current debate. The recent question is in fact highly ambiguous: the art market is short on new material to present which are still capable of surprising. Therefore the market took the more logical step of searching for energies in the vast world of design; tried to transform design products into merchandise for the commercial appetites of the cursus honorum which immediately precedes the parnassus of the auction houses, and in a way it has succeeded. But precisely by so doing, the market nullified the central theme of experimental design, which has always developed around utopia. Utopia, obviously, immediately got its revenge, and design-made-art has become banal too. Utopia was forced to obey rules which weren’t its own, and which it couldn’t feel were its own. Now Megalopoli, the very word says as much, was a utopia, with all the necessary mythomaniacal attributes, with a profound will to change and improve the world. It could have disappeared during the years of the contemporary art grande bouffe. But it survived, and now re-presents itself with its utopian message unchanged, and for that reason perhaps still effective, and for this precise reason, still up-to-date.