Alcova chooses Varedo and its beautiful historic villas. An unexpected step which however brings many confirmations and some upgrades: the exhibition composure, the design quality and a lot of sensible aesthetic research

Alcova this year colonized Varedo. Until April 21st Villa Bagatti-Valsecchi and Villa Borsani are the location of the most off-beat event of the Design Week, where you can look for young designers, courageous companies and experimentation interdisciplinary.

But, this is certainly nothing new, Alcova is above all a visit to mysterious places, scandalously closed to the public for decades, preferably in peripheral and ignored areas of Milan, which the Fuorisalone has not yet touched.

And it can be confirmed: after seeing the two homes, one nineteenth-century and one modernist, representative of a Milan that once was, you will exclaim: how beautiful! Because actually everything is wonderful: the boundless park of Villa Bagatti-Valsecchi, the modernist purity of Villa Borsani (look out for Lucio Fontana's fireplace and the wonderful Ghiacciaia, on the left hand side of the garden in Villa Bagatti Valsecchi, laid out with furniture and lamps by Junya Ishigami).

What's new at Alcova

Some things have changed and Alcova, in a certain sense, is mature. Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima have often raised the flag of a curatorship that is organized by elective affinities, as if Alcova were a state of mind.

The past year's experience at the ex Macello left at least three fundamental lessons, such as a transition from adolescence to adulthood.

1) Choosing does not necessarily mean selecting, but reducing the number and organizing the space so that it is immediately understandable.

2) The queues in front of the entrance are exciting but irritate those who are there for work: buyers, journalists, collectors, gallery owners, etc.

3) “For something” is a reassuring architectural formula, but landing in two real houses, although out of the ordinary, is an interesting choice and an involuntary litmus test for the quality of the projects. If it holds up in a nineteenth-century living room, it's a good sign.

Alcova's confirmations

There are those who perceived Varedo's choice as a personal affront. The comments are so widespread on the first evening of the FuoriSalone that some even talk about a boycott. It would be interesting to know the real reasons for the Varese location, because it vaguely smells like a courageous plan B that worked well.

If, however, it was a conscious turning point, then we can expect an interesting evolutionary leap.

Because Alcova is a valid exhibition, where you "need to go" if you want to see non-Italian designers, Italian but young, courageous or provocative ones concentrated in a small (so to speak) area, some companies that want to do strong planning statementsand schools and universities (less than in previous years).

And it is still an extremely cosmopolitan space, which has replaced the slightly freak but very cheerful and exciting beginnings of Zona Ventura, filling the void with its chic version (and equipped with a solid business plan).

What to observe: good news for design

For years we have seen design research dedicated to theoretical speculation. The intentions were mostly excellent, indeed necessary. And without these "middle" years, a bit hybrid and a bit lacking in concrete consequences, we would not have managed to see the leap in quality.

From research to output. From the traditional industry to the 3D printed industry. From a questionable formal gesture, at times a little desperate, to an aesthetic work that finally resonates with a very new but indisputable sense of beauty.

In short: if we were starting to get used to a rough, post-industrial, post-apocalyptic narrative, starting this year at Alcova we can see design, the real one. From Telare la materia, by Davide Balda/ Fabrica.

In a small room on the second floor of Villa Bagatti-Valsecchi, a sensible project on the post-production recovery of Benetton garments. To make a (nice) building compound. Or to use as mulch for indoor farming.

Two companies on the ground floor of the same location. The first is American: it's called OS and in Portland it produces posh 3D printed nylon shoes using generative software. The good news is that it's not just high fashion that benefits: those who wish can have a personal micro collection produced. Zero waste, ideally widespread production, 100% recyclable materials.

In the adjacent room the German brand Econitwood which produces, again in 3D printing, furniture in a compound of pulverized wood and mineral glue. Beautiful, monumental, exaggerated furniture. Which however happily dissolve in the natural environment without leaving a trace, if left to the elements and the work of fungi and bacteria.

In the underground floor the designer So Koizumi learned the difficult yet very light lesson of Enzo Mari: working on the industrial (or artisanal) ready made together with a Japanese tile manufacturer. Not far away, the Alvaro Catalán de Ocón studio continues its collaboration with artisan districts of the second and third world and brings a woven ceiling lamp that opens the heart and makes you dream of other lands.

Elisa Uberti excites again and again with her slightly surreal pieces, made in colombina, one of the simplest and most archaic methods for working ceramics. Natalia Criado at Villa Borsani finds an ideal and ironic location for a silverplated tableware halfway between Bauhaus and pre-Columbian craftsmanship.

What to wish for Alcova: the courage of autonomy

For Alcova we can only suggest a further step, after the export of the format to the international collectible capitals, after the opening of the e-shop, after the detachment from a traditional idea of design with a history that has unmanageable weights.

The farewell to the FuoriSalone, of which the exhibition is certainly a daughter. And as an adult daughter, she must leave her maternal home and make a life of her own.

We would like to see an independent and self-sufficient Alcova, in a month empty of events, with the courage to be something different from the Milanese Design Week. Because those who take risks are nicer and even Varedo is forgiven.