An exhibition tells what the famous wooden puppet has to do with design today. Through iconic and never-before-seen objects, and beautiful vintage and contemporary graphics

The world's most famous puppet is 140 years old. To celebrate the anniversary, ADI Design Museum in Milan decided to set up the exhibition 'Dearest Pinocchio. Italian designers and graphic artists redesign the world's most famous puppet'. Curated by Giulio Iacchetti, with an exhibition project by Matteo Vercelloni and graphic design by Federica Marziale Iadevaia, the exhibition opened yesterday and will remain open until 4 February 2024. With, among others, 62 new projects.

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A sequence from Luigi Comencini's 'Avventure di Pinocchio', broadcast by RAI in 1972. One of the most iconic television reinterpretations of Collodi's fairy tale.

A universal fable

Born in 1883 from the pen of Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio - Story of a Puppet is the most translated book in the world, after the Bible. The first to draw Pinocchio was Enrico Mazzanti, a contemporary of Collodi's, who illustrated the edition of the book printed by Libreria Editrice Felice Paggi in Florence, portraying him with a ruff and cone-shaped hat, in splendid ink drawings. Since then, graphic artists, designers, and creative people have reproduced him in a thousand different ways: candleholders, stools, corkscrews, vases, funnels, even washbasin mixers.

Celebrating a masterpiece

An important anniversary that provides an opportunity to celebrate a masterpiece of Italian literature, to emphasise that multidisciplinary nature of design that is then the heritage of a cultural richness capable of posing questions in our daily actions. Pinocchio is one of the first made-in-Italy objects and Geppetto can rightly be considered the first designer in literature: the old carpenter extracts his puppet from the block of wood, obtaining everything from nothing, which is then the essence of design, of Italian know-how.

Pinocchio and design

"What does Pinocchio have to do with design?", explains Giulio Iacchetti, "He represents the elementary but highly effective combination of a few geometric shapes: a cylinder, a sphere, the cone of the hat and, of course, the pointed, thin protrusion of the nose. Its iconic strength is directly proportional to its immediate formal recognisability. Yes, because Pinocchio is a symbolic icon of Italian style, like the Bialetti moka coffee machine, the Arco lamp, the Sacco armchair. It is an ancestral figure that lends itself to multiple functions."

Between history, vintage editions, unpublished drawings

There are four thematic areas. The first, historical-iconographic (curated by Marco Belpoliti), gathers together covers, drawings, illustrations, plates that recount about a century and a half of editions, ranging from the illustrations of Carlo Chiostri and Enrico Mazzanti to the advertisements of the first decades of the 20th century where Pinocchio was testimonial in a hero-national key, to the reproductions of the unpublished drawings by Aldo Rossi, without forgetting the portraits of Pinocchio-Totò and Carmelo Bene's Pinocchio.

Design d'auteur

A second section lines up, celebrating the most representative companies of made in Italy, pieces of Italian design that have found inspiration in the forms of Pinocchio (among the many, Pino funnel created for Alessi by Stefano Giovannoni and Miriam Mirri, Pinocchio book end by Alfredo Häberli for Danese, Pinocchio bottle opener, also by Alessi, designed by Alessandro Mendini, Pinocchio vase in Murano blown glass by Giulio Iacchetti for InternoItaliano).

62 unpublished puppets

The third section, the heart of the exhibition, houses the 62 unpublished Pinocchio puppets. 31 are drawings and illustrations, 31 are pieces of design (among the designers: Matteo Cibic, Duilio Forte, Matteo Ragni, Elena Salmistraro, Paola Navone, Lorenzo Palmeri, Franco Raggi) "different expressions of the feeling and doing of many Italian designers: an enlarged, kaleidoscopic, surprising look, able to tell the story of Italian design's ability to create timeless images and objects, thus celebrating the myth of Geppetto, the first Italian designer," says Iacchetti. "They are declaredly useless pieces, I asked designers and graphic designers not to be tormented by function. I wanted useless objects in the exhibition, 'graphic' and 'solid' letters addressed to Pinocchio."

An icon updated to our contemporaneity

"More than 60 designers have practised redesigning, rethinking, updating Pinocchio to our contemporaneity," the curator continues. "A multitude of Pinocchios, with noses that grow and legs that shorten, polemical and irreverent, jointed, reduced to the essential (cylinder, sphere, cone), primordial, Leonardesque, inviting to play, lending themselves to graphic games, coloured and serious in black and white, kinetic, simply useless. Or rather: useful to crack a smile, to distract us for a moment from our worries and bring us back to thinking that each of us, for a moment in our lives, would have liked to be like our puppet."

An exhibition dedicated to master Andrea Branzi

The last section brings together the drawings of another recently deceased master of design, Andrea Branzi (to whom the entire exhibition is dedicated), author of the book "Pinocchio?" published by Libri Scheiwiller: one hundred drawings, one hundred true works of art with a single subject at the centre, the best-known wooden puppet. Leaving this last section, two school desks flank a red mailbox designed as a small house. Here all visitors are invited to write and post a mail to Pinocchio.

One exhibition design for two exhibitions

The exhibition design is curated by architect Matteo Vercelloni and was created to respond to two distinct exhibition moments: the exhibition at the ADI Design Museum and the travelling exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institutes around the world (the next appointment will be in Skopje in Macedonia from 14 to 24 March 2024 and others are being defined). "The exhibition at ADI follows the idea of the construction of a Paese dei Balocchi with Mangiafuoco's big circus at the centre that constitutes the heart of the exhibition itinerary made up of the 31 display elements that house the 31 pinocchios designed by the designers and the 31 works of graphics," says Vercelloni. "Mangiafuoco's circus, where the new Pinocchios confront each other and look at each other, accommodates a revolving merry-go-round in its centre that underlines the memory of Toyland, also emphasised by the merry-go-round-ziguratt in which the Pinocchio products form a choral tale," the architect continues.

A travelling tour and a charity auction

At the end of the presentation in Italy and the subsequent travelling tour, the 62 specially created Pinocchios will be auctioned off for charity. The catalogue, published by ADIper, features an unpublished drawing by Attilio Cassinelli on the cover. The exhibition is realised with the contribution of Abet Laminati who, like a striped notebook page fixed to a steel base, created the structural surface of the travelling display element.