THE LIGHT TOUCH OF MILAN
By Roger Williams
Industrial Milan has long been known as a hub for 20th-century design, and works by some of its foremost practitioners are, or have been, available at the Afridi Gallery.
The leading figure was Gio Ponti (1891–1979), architect and founding editor, in 1928, of Domus magazine, now bilingual (Italian-English) and both online and in print, 11 times a year. A driving force in encouraging aesthetics in industrial production, his international reputation rose with his design for the Pirelli Tower in Milan, the tallest building in the country when completed in 1961, and one of more than 100 buildings to come off his drawing board. The buildings may date, but his furniture is timeless, and his lamps are always appealing. The Pirellina and Pirellone lamps, diffused and indirect light bulbs with satin nickel-plated brass frame and body in moulded and curved glass, were inspired by his skyscraper.
In 1932 Gio Ponti teamed up with designer Pietro Chiesa (1892 - 1948) and glassmaker Luigi Fontana, whose family business was in sheet glass and stained glass products. FontanaArte, which resulted, has been making lamps in Milan ever since. Max Ingrand (1908-1969), the French master glass worker and decorator who took over as artistic director in 1954, was responsible for FontantaArte's signature deep green and blue colours and the enduring Fontana table lamp.
Stilnova is another Milanese designer hot-house, which still produces its classic illuminations from the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Topo, the Valigia, the Alfiere, the Bugia, the Piega and the Triedro. It benefitted from the talents of Joe Colombo (1930– 1971) and Ettore Sottsass,(1917–2007), and still showcases modern designers such as Cini Boeri.
Another Milanese designer whose work the Afridi Gallery has displayed is Massimo Vignelli (1931–2014). He founded Vignelli Associates with his wife Lella, and broadened his reputation by designing the maps and signage for New York’s subway system. A fabulous Vignelli golden pillar with a variable uplight is currently showing in the Afridi Gallery.
Milan’s creativity is not confined to furniture. Ettore Bugatti (1881–1947) was born in Milan, though he made his mark producing cars in Alsace. The Afridi Gallery is not a car showroom, but Bugatti has inspired a lamp by Cristina Prandoni. The Milanese designer now lives in London, and her innovative lights, which have impressed the Afridi Gallery, includes one with metal machined in swirling patterns that precisely emulate the dashboard of Bugatti’s most successful racing car, the Type 34.
Alessandro Durini di Monza is another interesting Milanese contemporary
living in London. His photographs of buildings and street life tend towards the abstract. Based both in Milan and London, he publishes his pictures in his quarterly paper TheViewspaper. Although the Milanese connection was never initially intended, work by these exceptional designers from Italy’s city of fashion now appear alongside other choice pieces showing at the Afridi Gallery.
Lighting by Cristina available at the gallery.
Selected photographic works by Alessandro will be on view March 2019.
Type 35 - Cristina Prandoni.
Rectangles in New York - Alessandro Durini di Monza