Commissariat de Marie-Ange Brayer

from 26 June to 1 November 2020

The utopia of Italian design

Collections of the Centre Pompidou
Hôtel des Arts, Toulon

After developing the exhibition “Nouvelles Vagues” held at the Cercle Naval of Toulon from June to November 2019, the Centre Pompidou presents the exhibition “Futurissimo. Utopia in Italian Design” whose opening will take place at Hôtel des Arts of Toulon on 25 June 2020.
This new exhibition is part of the three-year partnership agreement signed on December 20, 2019 between the Centre Pompidou, the villa Noailles and the Métropole Toulon Provence Méditerranée, whereby the Centre Pompidou undertakes to develop every year – until 2022– a design exhibition at the Hôtel des Arts based on the works from its collection.

Under the curatorship of Marie-Ange Brayer, Chief Curator of the Design and Industrial Prospective department at the Centre Pompidou, “Futurissimo. Utopia in Italian Design” explores the unique position of Italian design through a chronological and thematic layout, from the interwar period to the noughties. The exhibition addresses the singularity of Italian design stemming from architectural culture and modern avant-gardes such as futurism in the early 20th century. Between experimentation and radical art, transcending the oppositions between industry and craft, Italian design paved the way for another approach to the object, beyond functionalism, thus renewing the connection with domestic and architectural environment.

Following the rationalist aesthetics (Pagano, Albini) of the 1930s-1940s, Italian industrial design achieved international success as early as the 1950s (Sottsass, Borsani, Colombo, Castiglioni, etc.). As a laboratory of the major social and political changes of the 20th century, Italian design always expanded its areas of research to architecture and to the city. Ranging from the critical utopias driven by radical architecture (Archizoom, Superstudio, Pettena, Ugo La Pietra) to the “re-appropriation” of objects (Autoprogettazione by Enzo Mari, Riccardo Dalisi’s «poor objects»), Italian design opened up to “collective creation”.

Such experimentations were to inspire Studio Alchymia (Guerriero, Mendini) and Memphis, around Ettore Sottsass, in the early 1980s. The “mundane object” promoted by these movements combined with a renewal of the decorative dimension, thereby transforming common objects into iconoclastic ones, while postmodernism was questioning the notions of sign and image in their relation to history.

Italian design therefore stands “beyond design”: Joe Colombo’s “anti-design” in the 1960s or Ettore Sottsass Jr.’s “counter design” who is in opposition to rationalism, to make design part of an emotional experience. Theoretician and designer Andrea Branzi also called for an “emotional design” basing on our emotional and perceptual experience, an animistic return to the symbolic and archetypal dimension of objects, which refers to the spirit of utopia pervading Italian design.

The exhibition is divided into approximately ten sections: Rationalism, Baroque, Seats, Light Fixtures, Industrial Design, Radical Design, Memphis, Postmodern City and focuses on two leading figures in design: Ettore Sottsass and Andrea Branzi. Through the creation of colourful environments and fictional objects, designer Jean-Baptiste Fastrez designed a scenography telling a sensory story about colours, lights, materials and opening onto an imaginary theatre of objects.

Curated by Marie-Ange Brayer, Curator in charge of Centre Pompidou’s Design collections, produced by the Hôtel des Arts in association with the villa Noailles, this exhibition brings the unique adventure of Italian design to life through more than two hundred works – design objects, drawings, photographs, installations, etc. – created by some fifty designers.

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