We speak to the curator of the city's long-anticipated design gallery
The 2019 edition of Salone del Mobile was a good fair for Italian architect and designer Mario Bellini; not only was he granted a lifetime achievement award, but his 50-year dream of seeing a design museum in his home city of Milan finally came true. Beyond the buzz of new launches, it was this year’s main event.
Located in the Curva gallery on the ground floor of the Triennale, the museum displays 200 objects from 1946 to 1981 which define, in the eyes of its curator, Joseph Grima at least, Italian design. “The gallery is a linear, horseshoe shape, so it lent itself to a chronological display,” says Grima, who rummaged through the Triennale’s archive for the most representative works. Among them are cool kitchen gadgets by Alessi, writing devices by Olivetti and modular, furniture in steel and polyurethane. “Italian design from the era was playful and extremely democratic,” says Grima. “The post war period was about making well-designed, affordable products for many. Throughout these three decades of experimentation, innovation was driven by designers, entrepreneurs and craftspeople who worked to establish Milan as a global capital of design.”
The post war period was about making well-designed, affordable products for many. Throughout these three decades of experimentation, innovation was driven by designers, entrepreneurs and craftspeople who worked to establish Milan as a global capital of design
The exhibition ends with a photograph of the first Memphis exhibition, taken in 1981. “After this, it becomes more complicated; Italian design doesn’t stop being interesting, but objects start to be made outside Italy,” says Grima. “There’s a shift from geographical to philosophical definitions.” In May, a competition to build a new gallery under the Triennale will be launched. This new space will tell the whole story, from the 1940s to the present day, and will be large enough to display the entire 1600- piece collection.
Along with an advisory panel, Grima will also acquire contemporary works. A polymath who spans architecture, design and academia, British-born Grima is also creative director of the Eindhoven Design Academy, co-founder of a research studio Space Caviar and curator of Alcova, a satellite exhibition of young designers that aired during salone. He, more than anyone, is well placed to spot and promote rising talents. The fact that he is not Italian, he says, was a bonus. “There was an urgent need to make a museum and a lot of anxiety about what it would actually be. So many alarm bells were ringing.”
“As well as the icons on display, there are around 200 other pieces in the collection that are incredible. Designers such as Carlo Scarpa and Carlo Mollino are wildly under represented and there are works that shouldn’t be there at all.”
Around 30 of the 170 designers in the exhibition are still alive, and visitors can dial in on vintage Grillo telephones to hear them describing their works. It’s a nice touch. Giancarlo Zanatta explains how his 1971 Moon Boots were inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing, Archizoom members argue that the latex rubber sheet of their 1969 Mies sofa is, in fact, ideal seating material. Grima devised the recordings in homage to the late Vico Magsitretti. “He said that if you couldn’t describe your idea over the phone in a few words then it wasn’t worth making.” Advice, which like the works themselves, has stood the test of time.