Milan Triennali

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Gio Ponti (1891—1979)


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886—1969) German-born architect and designer

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(established 1930)

These important Italian exhibitions of progressive design had their origins in the Biennali of the Decorative and Applied Arts that began in 1923 at Monza. However, their character soon changed from a regional showcase to an exhibition with international standing, particularly after becoming triennial in 1930. In that year the Triennale not only showed the work of innovative young Rationalist designers Figini and Pollini in the Electric House but also work from abroad. This included contributions from the Berlin Werkbund and the Dessau Bauhaus, as well as furniture by Mies Van Der Rohe and electrical products by AEG and Siemens. In 1933 the 5th Triennale moved to the newly built Palazzo d'Arte by Giovanni Muzio in Milan. As well as an exhibition devoted to the Futurist visionary architect Antonio Sant'Elia, the prototype of the Breda ETR 200 electric express train designed by Giuseppe Pagano and Gio Ponti was exhibited as were photographs of Ciam architectural design by Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Mies Van Der Rohe. Amongst the Italian designs at the 6th Triennale of 1936 was a Modernist dwelling by Gio Ponti and the Salone della Vittoria by Edouardo Persico, Marcello Nizzoli, and others where an acknowledgement of the classicism of Mussolini's ‘Roma Secunda’ sat uneasily with the avant‐garde leanings of Rationalism. Amongst progressive work from abroad was glass design by the Finnish designer Aino Aalto, who won a Gold Medal, as well as the birchwood Modernist furniture of her husband Alvar. The 1940 Triennale came to a premature end with Italy's involvement in the Second World War. After the war the Triennali resumed in 1947, an exhibition largely devoted to housing and reconstruction: including contributions by Ettore Sottsass, Vico Magistretti, and others. At the 1951 Triennale attention was devoted to ‘The Form of the Useful’ in a display organized by Ludovico Bellgoioso and Enrico Peressutti. Such a focus on industrial aesthetics gave rise to feelings that gathered strength in the 1950s, namely that the social and economic dimensions of design were underplayed at the expense of the quest for style. Nonetheless, much experimentation was evident in the exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of foam rubber furniture, organic form, and the ‘rediscovery’ of craft traditions as a stimulus to innovative work in a number of fields. Designers such as Franco Albini, Achille and Piergiacomo Castiglione, Carlo Mollino, and Marco Zanuso did much to suggest the high profile of Italian design in the following decades. Also prominent was the work of Tapio Wirkkala, who designed the critically acclaimed Finnish display. Indeed, Scandinavian design generally featured significantly in the shows of the 1950s. During that and the following decade the Triennali of the 1950s and 1960s continued to elicit critical attention and often fierce debate until 1968 when the 14th Triennale was brought to an early end by student demonstrators. This manifestation of the volatility of political and social events in many ways echoed the increasingly fragile complexities of the Italian design world. Thereafter the Triennali ceased to play such a central role in design research, rhetoric, and relevance.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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