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Milan’s genius loci
von Sandra Hofmeister | 5/15/2012

"We lived à la Ponti," says Lisa Licitra Ponti reflecting on her childhood and her father. Known amongst other things for the Pirelli high-rise dating back to the 1950s, architect Gio Ponti also produced radical house designs in Milan's Via Randaccio, Via Brin and Via Dezza. There was a flowing arrangement to the bright rooms that came complete with art and furniture created by Ponti himself. Indeed, the family's daily routine was determined by his design work.

During the Salone, Milan's architectural association devoted a small show to Ponti's home interiors, and in doing so recalled a chapter of design history that is still very much alive and kicking today. On display in the cramped downtown offices, letters, photographs and plans of Gio Ponti's interior arrangements were: a metal chair, shelving resembling a delicate case and an occasional table – evidence of the life à la Ponti his daughter remembers. In the Molteni Showroom visitors were also able to admire the limited re-edition of a small selection of the Italian master's furniture.

Admittedly, this fairly small Ponti initiative remains a marginal note in the Salone week. But discoveries like this sear themselves into the mind because they reinforce a sense of Milan's genius loci. For generations design has defined the city's culture and history, and renowned designers such as Gio Ponti have gone to much trouble to anchor their creations in everyday life.

Glass pills adorn Renaissance altars

Anyone who strolled through the city during the Salone week is likely to encounter the one or other surprise and find contemporary design merged with excursions into the city's history – be it to the 1930s, the post-War era, the 19th century or as far back as the Renaissance. In the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Via Santo Spirito several historical epochs came together. Once the noble home of the Bagatti Valsecchi family (although the palazzo itself stems from the 19th century), it is emphatically modeled on the Renaissance style and fitted out with furniture and objects from the era of humanism. For the Salone week additional shimmering glass objects by Venini were also on display in the onetime living quarters together with contemporary designs. Fabio Novembre's new "Happy Pills", a limited edition of blown glass vases, accompanied the precious alter panels like some shimmering placebo from Murano. Emmanuel Babled's "Elix" table luminaire also brought a modern touch to life beneath the heavy coffered ceiling. And Tadao Ando's new "Veliero" LED luminaire, composed of single glass modules bent to form a table, standing or wall luminaire reared up like a futuristic light sculpture in the historical setting. Complemented by a prototype chair by the Japanese architect and autodidact (it marks the start of his collaboration with the Danish maker of traditional furniture Carl Hansen & Son), the historical home setting of Bagatti Valsecchi was transformed into a kind of future laboratory uniting traditional craftsmanship with modern technologies.

Contemporary high spots and historical portraits

Contemporary highlights in an unusual, historical setting were also on view in the Foscarini show "Fare Lume" in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Via Manzoni. Curator Beppe Finessi, editor-in-chief of the magazine Inventario, collected different creations that explore the art and design of candles, and placed them in the museum's renowned painting collection amidst the wonderful works by Botticelli and Pollaiolo, Bellini and Mantegna. Thanks to objects such as Oscar Diaz' reduced "Doiy" candleholder and Giulio Iacchetti's startlingly simple "Lumen" construction of small metal plates inserted into each other a fascinating dialog was created, which made the portraits and the sacred paintings of the collection flicker in dim candlelight. Present and past, art and design were melded into a synergy, which Michelangelo Pistoletto also employed. His installation "Candele" comprised a straight row of candles whose flickering light was reflected in the rear metal plaque like a trompe-l'œil. After this tour you can argue that the limits of orchestration are as fluid as those between art and design. And they meld present and past into a surprisingly convincing mixture.

Fabio Novembre’s “Happy Pills“ for Venini, presented at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan, photo © Venini
“Matilda” by Fabio Rotella for Venini, photo © Sandra Hofmeister
“Veronese“ by Vittorio Zecchin, photo © Sandra Hofmeister
View into the hall at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan – on show are the standing lamps and table luminaires from Tadao Ando’s “Veliero” series for Venini, photo © Venini
LED standard lamp “Veliero” by Tadao Ando for Venini, photo © Venini
Tadao Ando with his new chair prototype for Carl Hansen, photo © Carl Hansen
View in Foscarini’s exhibition “Fare Lume”, curated by Beppe Finessi, photo © Foscarini
“B.L.O” by Marcel Wanders, photo © Foscarini
“Flames” by Chris Kabel, photo © Foscarini
View inside Gio Ponti’s house in Via Dezza in Milan, photo © Gio Ponti Archives
Living room of Gio Ponti‘s house in Via Dezza, photo © Gio Ponti Archives
Gio Ponti together with Carlo Mollino and Aurelio Zanotta, photo © Gio Ponti Archives
View of the exhibition “Vivere alla Ponti”, photo © Stefano Suriano
“Elix” by Emmanuel Babled for Venini, photo © Venini
Vases “Bolle” by Tapio Wirkhalla for Venini, photo © Venini
“Candele” by Michelangelo Pistoletto in the Foscarini exhibition “Fare Lume” in Milan, photo © Foscarini
“Candel” by Enrico Azzimonti e Jordi Pigem, photo © Foscarini
“Casper” by Tobias Wang, photo © Foscarini
“Time Light” by Joe Velluto (JVLT), photo © Foscarini

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