Uncovering experimental narratives behind collectible design in Milan
Even within the confines of its largest art fair, Milan can’t let go of its devotion to design. Miart was a three-day long art fair (13-15 April) that whet the city’s appetite for champagne toasts and rapid-fire vernissages before Salone del Mobile’s big guns rolled into town in the following days. Though the vast majority of booths focus on fine art, a small, smartly chosen selection of design galleries made a fine showing in the ‘Object’ section, which was curated by London-based journalist Hugo Macdonald.
The Object section was devoted to galleries active in the promotion of experimental design, decorative arts, limited editions and collectable design. It consisted of 12 galleries, an even mix of young and established, Milanese, Italian and European. ‘This year we have encouraged galleries to focus their shows on one or two or a small handful of exhibitors, to give space to properly tell stories,’ Macdonald describes of Object 2019, his second time at the helm of the section. ‘I think it makes for a confident narrative. You understand why works are important and can appreciate their value beyond their aesthetic quality or status symbol.’
The approach indeed proved fruitful. Highlights included ceramics gallery Officine Saffi’s solo exhibition of the work of Milanese designer Elisa Ossino. On display was a series of monolithic objects made by hand from clay and sand and coloured a dusty shade of rose pink, a mix of the sort of monumental forms and careful scenography Ossino has become known for in recent years.
Northern Italian furniture producer Eredi Marelli showed off its Paolo Buffa archive in the form of the mid-century Italian designer’s original walnut and velvet seating, exhibited alongside his hand-drawn technical sheets and rare books dedicated to his work. While Modena-based gallery Antonio Verolino brought with them a solo show on Cesare Leonardi, described by Macdonald as, ‘a timely reappraisal of a fascinating body of work by a gifted and multi-dextrous designer.’
Not all galleries took such singular routes. Milan’s Luisa delle Piane showed a fresh assortment of midcentury and contemporary pieces, mixing furniture by Franco Albini and Franca Helg with embroidered lighting by Instituto Campana and an installation of crudely rendered clay masks by artist Giovanni De Francesco.
Another local, Dimoregallery, brought a melange of work from the 1960s through to the 1980s on a stripped back set of carpeted white risers, a toned down departure from their usual theatrical setups. Finally, Copenhagen’s Galleri Feldt took a slightly different approach, creating a ‘conversation between important Danish design icons and exquisite craft studies from their ongoing collaboration with Vitamin Creative Space in China,’ says Macdonald.
‘My aim has been to focus on galleries that are actively engaged in bringing the cultural context to life around the designs they show and sell,’ Macdonald explains of his curatorial mission for this year’s selection. ‘Collectible design is about more than investment. The stories around the people and pieces are vital for understanding their value.’ §