03 December 2019
A Design History Handbook: a new “history of design,” edited by Domitilla Dardi and Vanni Pasca and published by Silvana Editoriale, has finally emerged after a lengthy hiatus. The authors have tackled this “mission impossible” (When did design start? What types of design should a history book focus on? What should be its geographical scope?) with great equanimity. Their decision not to stick to a rigorous time frame but to operate on several different levels simultaneously, is particularly striking, despite the inevitable comings and goings, screeching halts and bursts of madness that always go hand in hand with creativity. It will be up to the reader (hopefully not entirely new to the territory) to draw his or her own conclusions.
Atlas of Furniture Design: a quick glimpse at the figures for this “really heavy” book is enough to understand what we mean. 1,740 analysed objects, 2,852 photographs, 546 designers, 1,028 pages. Published by the Vitra Design Museum (edited by Mateo Kries and Jochen Eisenbrand) it’s the ideal gift for design fetishists (as long as you’ve got a spare 159.90 euros). It’s really an encyclopaedia but, like all encyclopaedias, differences are often ironed out and everything is presented on the same level. The reader is thus faced with the difficult task of working out the correct hierarchies and unpicking this maniacal order to rediscover the joy of the project.
Finally, a book that does justice! There are useful books and useless books, books that repeat stories that have already been told and books that tell stories that deserve to be remembered: the book Il Mondo di Poggi: l’Officina del Design e delle Arti belongs firmly in the latter category. Edited by Roberto Dulio, Fabio Marino and Stefano Andrea Poli, and published by Electa, it charts the personal and professional life of Roberto Poggi (1924), the craftsman in whose family carpentry shop in Pavia first Franco Albini’s furniture designs took shape, and then those of many others, including Umberto Riva, Ugo La Pietra, Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti. As we said, it’s a useful book for piecing together the real story of design, especially now that Poggi pieces are listed in the catalogues of other companies.
Who was Elvira Leonardi Bouyeure? Do any of our readers know the answer? That’s precisely why it’s worth dipping into Biki. Visioni Francesi per una Moda Italiana, published by Rizzoli and edited by Simona Segre Reinach, with photos by Giovanni Gastel. As well as lifting the lid on the arcane, the book takes us through a magic time in Milanese fashion, allowing us to bask in an epoch marked by a once in a lifetime kind of beauty.
Maps, but not for journeys. Cast your mind away from Google Maps for a minute and think about the imaginary journeys that marked our adolescence, to Treasure Island for instance, or Never Never Land, with Salgari or Verne. Le Terre Immaginate [Imagined Lands], edited by Huw Lewis Jones and published by Salani, takes us by the hand and leads us to these impossible places, explaining how to get there and how to survive, and not least how to get away again. The ideal gift for all those who no longer know how to use a map, all those who no longer manage to lose themselves among streets, alleyways, mountains and rivers designed to simulate reality.
Strongly recommended for all decorators. At this point in time, marked by pale colours and fringes, in a surreptitious return to ‘80s style, it’s really worth making a trip to the Marconi Foundation at 15 Via Tadino in Milan (before 21st December) to immerse oneself in the gritty and poetically absolute world of Giuseppe Uncini. Cement and shadow, iron for formwork and silence, a play of solids and voids, dazzling lights. The exhibition is entitled La Conquista dell’Ombra [Conquering Shadow] and focuses on the life of the great sculptor from the Marches between the years of 1968 and 1977, underscoring his message, which still holds good today: “He who makes art must reflect deeply on the material he uses, in order to express real meaning.”
Why doesn’t anyone go to Leghorn any more? Maybe now’s the time! The Tuscan city is celebrating one of its most famous sons, Amedeo Modigliani. The exhibition at the City Museum, curated by Marc Restellini, runs until 16th February 2020 and contains 14 paintings from the collections of Jonas Netter and Paul Alexandre. These are unquestionably original works, although it is worth remembering that Modigliani was probably the most imitated painter of the 20th century. He could never have produced all the work that has been attributed to him in his short life – he died aged 36. This makes it crucial to underscore the provenance of the paintings, which include the startling portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, Modigliani’s partner, who killed herself – pregnant – on 23rd January 1920, the day after the artist’s death.
When it was all go in Vienna: another strand has now been added to our fin-de-siècle nostalgia for the Austrian capital. The MAK (the extraordinary museum of decorative arts) is paying tribute to the forgotten designer Otto Prutscher (the Universal Designer of Viennese Modernism, as per the title of the exhibition). Ten years younger than the famous modernists Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann, Prutscher went on to become an architect, designer and interior decorator. Furniture, glass, silver and extraordinarily detailed drawings are on show until 17th May. The catalogue is interesting (and a mere 29 euros!).
Van Cleef & Arpels: we’ve all got until 23rd February 2020 to dive into the fairy-tale, and basically unreal, world of Van Cleef & Arpels High Jewellery (entry is free). Impeccably curated by Alba Cappellieri, to whom both Italian and international contemporary jewellery owe a tremendous amount, and mounted by Johanna Grawunder, the exhibition showcases more than 400 pieces designed from 1906 onwards. The jewellery traces the changing desires and dreams of women over the course of the 20th century. The monumental catalogue, published by Skira, boasts a striking cover designed by gb studio.
Primo Levi as shown by Gianfranco Cavaglià. Primo Levi: a man we need more than ever to remember (and who still never ceases to amaze). Primo Levi trained and worked as a chemist, he was an extraordinary writer (who also felt the need to recount the horrors of the Nazi death camps), and an artist. This is amply illustrated by an exhibition at the GAM in Turin, which runs until 26th January 2020, impeccably mounted by Gianfranco Cavaglià. Fantastic creatures made of copper wire, sometimes with tin inserts, largely dreamed up for his own purposes (and of which only a handful of very close friends were aware), are being presented to the world for the very first time: “… saprophytes, birds of day and night, creepers, butterflies, crickets and fungi,” as well as owls and crocodiles and rhinoceros and mysterious fishes.
Opening image: cover detail from Design History Handbook