17 December 2018
by Marco Romanelli
The centenary of the birth of a great master ought to be a cause for celebration. In reality a veil of sadness always remains: the person we are talking about is most definitely no longer with us. That is particularly true when it comes to Achille Castiglioni who, despite having died 16 years ago, is still regarded as part of our everyday lives. Not just because great designers live on through their projects (furniture, architecture, objects), which continue to evoke their presence, but especially because Castiglioni was Castiglioni, a one-off. An extremely physical presence, with his large hands, his husky voice, his slightly curved posture, a contagious smile and an unusual interest in others. In fact, I believe that one of the best things about the retrospective exhibition curated by Patricia Urquiola with Federica Sala at the Triennale di Milano (open until 20th January 2019) is precisely this – eschewing any saccharine tributes (Castiglioni was no saint and would not wish to have been thought so), avoiding all museification (in reality he lived the past as a step towards the future) – making him come alive, making him really come back amongst us. It would be pointless to downplay the controversy aroused by the exhibition, largely because of the unusual decision to entrust a designer with curating it rather than a critic, but there was never a better decision: Patricia tackles Castiglioni from the heart rather than the head, with no intellectualistic contrivances, no punctilious sequences, simply capturing him (as she tends to do with everyone she meets). Chronologies are skipped, typologies are bypassed – 20 meta-designer categories are identified (from “Keep it Simple” to “Playfulness”, “Redesigning” and “Served and Server”) and tackled. Were these really the mental categories that Castiglioni relied on? Personally, I don’t think so, but what does that matter! What does it matter if this perspective can now help us look at his objects, even the lesser-known ones, through different eyes and thereby see his work as allusive of the future: so use the catalogue in this spirit - it is not a tool for critical analysis but a dedicated design manual! As Castiglione said when faced with a new anonymous object to add to his collection: “put it there … while it matures!” No nostalgia, therefore, but dazzling, unwitting advice for students, for his designer colleagues, young and old, for anyone prepared to take it on board.
The second controversy to surface at the Triennale was the way in which the collaboration – I would rather call it symbiosis – between Castiglioni and his brother Pier Giacomo, was cruelly brought to an end with the death of the latter in 1968, exactly 50 years ago. A specious controversy, since everyone who knew Castiglioni knows that he never missed an opportunity to refer to his brother. A specious controversy, since tremendous care has been taken with the attributions for all the early works on exhibit, the ones created by all four hands between 1940 and 1968. Let us not forget, however, that as of 1968 Castiglioni carried on designing for another 34 years (alone!), churning out masterpieces. What’s the point of comparisons such as whether the Arco lamp is more of a masterpiece than the San Luca or the San Carlo armchairs? These are rhetorical questions. The fact of the matter is that if we still perceive Castiglioni’s physical presence, thanks to him Pier Giacomo is also here with us today!
Curated by Patricia Urquiola
In collaboration with
Triennale di Milano
Viale Emilio Alemagna, 6 - Milan
6 October 2018 - 20 January 2019