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After so many successful auctions and events, we find ourselves reflecting on the pivotal event of 1972 that shaped the history and affirmation of Italian design worldwide. We are, of course, referring to “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a highly ambitious exhibition curated by Emilio Ambasz. This event internationally established the Made in Italy design and served as a launching pad for renowned artists such as Gae Aulenti, Mario Bellini, Joe Colombo, Ugo La Pietra, Angelo Mangiarotti, Enzo Mari, Gaetano Pesce, Ettore Sottsass, Marco Zanuso, and many others. The works of these designers have now become iconic, but how did they attain such status?
Why specifically Italian design? There are essentially three reasons. Firstly, in the preceding decade, Italian design experienced rapid growth and emerged as dominant and influential on the international scene. Moreover, the produced objects held significant importance due to their high quality and the immense diversification of forms employed. Lastly, these designs drew attention to sociocultural implications, which later spread globally. Italian design encompassed a wide range of schools resulting from diverse approaches to resolving or adapting to socioeconomic problems, as well as the lack of government support for design production compared to mass production. Some designers chose to create objects to solve problems, others aimed to influence thinking patterns, while some designed pieces with unattractive colors and shapes to express the futility of their protest. Through Ambasz’s selection, this exhibition aimed to pose the questions pondered by the designers themselves without providing answers. The goal was to lead individuals to self-realization.
The exhibition was sponsored by the Ministry of International Trade, the ICE Agency, the Eni Group, and several private companies such as FIAT, Olivetti, Anonima Castelli, and many others. It was divided into multiple parts: a selection of 180 objects, curated environments, and a section dedicated to promising artists under 35.
The selected objects had been created by around 100 artists chosen to represent three approaches to design. The first category consisted of creations selected for their forms and structures. These designers, the conformists, explored the aesthetics of forms and new materials. Others, the reformists, reintroduced familiar designs with a fresh, ironic, and often self-deprecating touch. The last group, the challengers, devised objects with multiple functions and completely different shapes from those seen in the market.
The curated environments were specifically designed installations meant to address socioeconomic themes. These settings represented the two opposing schools of thought in design: the more traditional school that believed objects should solve a problem, and the counter-design school that emphasized the renewal of philosophical thinking to achieve social change.
The exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” had a profound influence on contemporary design. It not only established Italy as the benchmark of modern design but also challenged traditional notions of the home. By commissioning a series of experimental domestic environments, the exhibition pushed the boundaries of what a home could be, questioning established norms and inspiring designers to explore new possibilities. The achievements and problems of Italian design were thoroughly examined, shedding light on its dynamics and sparking conversations within the field. The exhibition also produced a book with the same name, offering an extensive exploration of the exhibition’s themes and making its impact accessible to a wider audience.
Italian designers showcased in the exhibition had a desire to go beyond the equation of design as merely beauty and utility. They delved into typological invention and the organization of production, questioning the role of high design in domestic environments. By doing so, they expanded the horizons of design and encouraged a more holistic approach to creating meaningful and functional spaces.
Today, vintage Italian design continues to enjoy widespread popularity for several reasons. Firstly, the timeless design of mid-20th century Italian pieces still looks modern and fresh, transcending passing trends. Furthermore, Italian designers are renowned for their unwavering commitment to quality craftsmanship, ensuring that vintage Italian pieces have stood the test of time and remain in excellent condition. The unique style of Italian design, characterized by its blend of elegance, luxury, and functionality, continues to captivate enthusiasts and collectors alike. Additionally, vintage Italian design has exerted a significant influence on contemporary design, with many designers drawing inspiration from the innovative designs of the mid-century period. Finally, Italian design from this era holds historical significance, marking a turning point in the design world and cementing Italy’s position as a leader in modern design.
In conclusion, the impact of “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” cannot be overstated. It not only solidified Italy’s prominence in the realm of design but also pushed the boundaries of what design could achieve. By challenging traditional notions and embracing innovation, Italian design continues to inspire and shape the contemporary design landscape. The exhibition’s exploration of experimental domestic environments and its thorough examination of Italian design dynamics opened new avenues for designers and continues to influence the field to this day. The enduring popularity of vintage Italian design is a testament to its timeless appeal and the lasting legacy of the groundbreaking exhibition.
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