Staged science or twixt illusion and structure
von Sandra Gottwald | Sep 25, 2011

Carlo Mollino. Admittedly, most have heard the name of the Italian architect at some point or other. Perhaps also that he was a genius, a polymath for whose furniture designs collectors bid record sums that run to the millions. An elitist dandy who created surreal interiors, a ski enthusiast with a penchant for racing cars, airplanes and, of course, for women, whom he recorded for posterity naked or clothed in countless photos. Yet few know that precisely Carlo Mollino (1905 - 1973) was first and foremost an engineer and architect. Perhaps that is why it had to be two architects who tackled the life and work of this man of such panache, in a new and down-to-earth way. Entitled "Maniera Moderna", curators Wilfried Kuehn and Armin Linke have joined forces with Chris Dercon to highlight just what important Mollion's oeuvre has and will continue to have.

The exhibition in Munich's Haus der Kunst is not the first project to be dedicated to the Turin architect's remarkable oeuvre. Yet it is definitely the most ambitious as it focuses on Carlo Mollino's oeuvre as a whole. For the first time, scientists, artists, collectors, archives and institutions have worked together to stage Mollino's art (architecture, design and photography) and analyze it in a new and objective way. The selection of works reflects the many sides to his oeuvre: On show are his drawings and architectural plans, furniture and objects for interiors, his "Bisiluro" racing cars, his photomontages, the Polaroids with the female nudes, his essays on architecture, photography and downhill skiing. A photographic essay by Armin Linke, written to coincide with the show, outlines Mollino's buildings and the state in which they are today.

In bald photos that in particular flank the first exhibition gallery, Linke describes the few buildings Mollino designed in Turin that have outlasted him, namely the impressive auditorium of the RAI radio station, the Teatro Regio, which is above all a stage for its visitors, and the Lutrario dance club. Linke also traveled to inspect Mollino's buildings in the Alps, such as the farmhouse on stilts up in Agra, which to this day is home to the original furnishings from the master in Turin, to a futurist ski hut at Lago Nero and the seemingly forgotten Furggen cable-car station up at 3,500 meters. Precisely in these photographs we can see the neglect into which Mollino's buildings have fallen: Inside the room with its wooden panels lie many centimeters of snow. The windows are not airtight. There are empty wine bottles lying around. One part of the furnishing has disappeared. Hardly anyone would imagine that what we see are designs by an artist whose designs fetch incredible prices in the art market.

Anyone entering the next exhibition gallery will understand why Mollino is held in such high esteem by collectors and why his works change hands for such a price. A table by Mollino is not simply a table, but a work of art. With his zestful style, furniture became creature. A table frame resembles the sinewy legs of a racing greyhound, another the bent hind legs of a deer. A freshly restored green club armchair that Mollino designed in 1949 for Casa Orengo, is, as Fulvio Ferrari, Director of the Museum Casa Mollino in Turin confirms, shaped after the silhouette of the Marquise for whom it was originally designed. Presented each on its own plinth in the context of a white cube, the various chairs, armchairs, luminaires and consoles seem so tangible in terms of shape and the properties of the materials. What remains hidden to us is their context or rather the interior for which these items were originally designed. Because like his photos, for Mollino each photo was a space in which even the most minute of details was important and had to be carefully orchestrated to fit the whole.

The exhibition is very clearly structured and highly aesthetic, yet visitors are left having to expend much energy to find information on the individual exhibits, the only solution being to constantly consult the small book that accompanies the show. Here you can learn the details, for example, of the copper snake-wardrobe that stands at the entrance to the exhibition and which Mollino designed for his friend the painter Italo Cremona. And how important the video with the chatty Italian woman in the lobby at the bottom of the stair well was. Because painter Olga Carol Rama was a contemporary of Carlo Mollino and therefore contributes many an invaluable insight into his person. It's well worth watching and listening to her.

Carlo Mollino - Maniera Moderna
from Sept. 16., 2011 thru Jan. 8, 2012
Haus der Kunst, München

Innenansicht der Casa del Sole, Cervinia, 1947-55, photo: Armin Linke
Lutrario Ballsaal in Turin, 1959, photo: Armin Linke
Armchair for Casa Minola, 1946
Untitled polaroid, 1960s
Bisiluro da corsa, Nardi – Mollino – Giannini, 1955, photo: Alessandro Nassiri, Archivio Museo Scienza
Carlo Mollino on his Bisiluro car, 1955, photo: Invernizzi
Maniera moderna: Views of the installation in the Haus der Kunst, 2011, photos: Juergen Ueberschaer
Casa Mollino, 1960-68, photo: A. Bartos
Teatro Regio, 1965-73 (Detail), photo: Armin Linke
Teatro Regio, 1965-73, photo: Cavalli
Chair for Mollino's studio at the Faculty of Architecture, 1959
Untitled polaroid, 1960s
Steering wheel by Enrico Nardi, 1955, photo: Alessandro Nassiri, Archivio Museo Scienza