Gio Ponti, besides being one of the first global architects of the 20th century, with buildings constructed and designed in Italy and Europe (but also Hong Kong, Denver, Baghdad and Caracas, Sao Paulo and New York), was also an internationally acclaimed designer, a renowned theorist and architecture critic.
His curiosity and genius generated the magazine Domus and the historic publication Stile, in search of links between architecture and the arts, and the creation of the first Triennale of Milan in 1933, as well as the coordination of many subsequent editions. For Interni, Chiara Spangaro interviewed the curator of the exhibition, Germano Celant. Considering the complexity of the work of Gio Ponti, ranging in all directions – from design to graphics, architecture to furnishings, theory to information – how has the presentation in Milan at the Triennale been organized? The experience of getting to know Ponti’s work can be like entering a labyrinth. One inevitably finds oneself having to choose between different routes, and in the end one gets lost. His output was so plural that all the poetic components only increase the suggestion of an infinite possibility of interpretation. The richness of the linguistic potential triggers the idea of the kaleidoscope, which you can rotate to produce countless figures, intertwining materials for a continuously updated evocative image. The versatility of Ponti right from the start of his career, in the 1920s, represents productive but also intellectual wealth. To draw a parallel between expression and behavior, we might say that Ponti articulates a democratic poetics with respect to languages, as Andy Warhol did later. Working in all the territories of expression and making them his, through intuitions and innovative techniques, the Milanese architect-designer chose to operate in all the situations and conditions of design activity. This openness had a price: he was “exiled” from the purist, formalist universe of his time, dominated by rationalist absolutism. Ponti, on the other hand, could be called an “irrationalist” architect, open to all experiences, all flights from the conditioned structures of an abstract, empty internationalism. His effort was to “construct”, case by case, a world, not following an impersonal line, but one that was totally personal. In fact, he appeared as a stray, surprising wedge in an architectural and industrial culture that in its belief in a generic program wavered between the commercial and the stylistic, deaf and hostile to the disruptive force of uncontrolled and almost incoherent imagination. If the game of dissonances and linguistic leaps is our focus, how can we recognize Ponti’s identity? Even in incoherent things coherency can be found, even in the disjointed we can find an articulation that only emerges from the overall meaning of the exhibition. The ‘irrational’ and ‘negative’ attitude Ponti expressed with respect to a historical interpretation imposes itself as a moment of maximum liberating force. The same can be said of the ‘consumist’ and ‘generalist’ acceleration that fills his production. The fact of accepting or promoting any type of client reveals a global vision of design that cannot claim a hierarchical position with respect to objects and things. Likewise for his ‘spherical’ view of the market and the territory of intervention, so much so that his projects range across the entire arc of cultures, from Italy to Venezuela, Brazil to Canada, the USA to Iran. He was perhaps the first architect, together with Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, to glimpse the future worldwide condition of design and architecture, and in fact he worked on the first means of intercontinental transport: ships. This openness involves designs that imply forceful symbolism, those that have to do with a projective economic-political, spiritual and cultural dimension: from the Pirelli skyscraper, Milan, 1956-1960, to the cathedral of the Gran Madre di Dio, Taranto, 1964-1971 and the Denver Art Museum, 1966-1972. How will this interpretation be developed in the exhibition? Will it be possible to identify specific threads as well as the entire weave of Ponti? The show will be an archipelago of islands to represent the multiplicity of the places ‘inhabited’ by Ponti, but at the same time it will attempt to offer a chronological path, to get a sense of being in tune with the ‘spirit of the time’. Starting in the 1920s, one reaches the later works, through all the passages of subject and scale, form ceramics, porcelain and majolica for Richard-Ginori to briar furniture, fabrics for Ferrari and Manifattura Jsa, glass by Venini, collaborations with Fornasetti, Melotti and De Poli, chairs for Cassina. In short, the hypothesis is to take a trip in the world of Ponti, reaching different ports of his language that includes iconic results of his operation, from furnished walls and windows to the Superleggera, from silverware to enamel work… also with parallels between interiors and architecture, from Villa Planchart, Caracas, 1955, to the church of San Carlo Borromeo, Milan, 1966, covering both the micro and the macro scales. To make the event more spectacular, together with the Ponti family we have decided to reconstruct a portion of the floor created for the Salzburger Nachrichten offices, 1976, bringing out the visual power of the color-architecture relationship. A mosaic of creative and productive pieces that thrive on diversity and surprise. They meet and clash with irregular, poetic fluctuation, almost impossible to define. A portrait where the various components of crafts and industry, from paintings to enamels, majolica to the Pavoni coffeemaker, 1948, are simultaneously present to such a point that the need was felt to create a room-studio where the figure of Ponti could be perceived against the backdrop of his city, Milan. Almost a threedimensional painting where projects, models or drawings meet, from the first Montecatini building, 1936-1938, to the Pirelli tower, as well as his work tables and bookcases, mixed with drawings and sketches, while in the furnishings there are vases and silver, and in another part the collection of his books, like “Amate l’architettura”, 1957, and the magazines he founded, like Domus and Stile. A personal Wunderkammer that will also include films and videos, where he is the protagonist, together with his objects, like the “chair with small seat”, 1971, or the Pozzi table services, 1967. The idea is also to indicate the potential of the Ponti archives, in terms of photographic documentation, letters and drawings, that make the ‘expressions of Gio Ponti’ magical, which is also the title of the exhibition in Milan. To convey an idea of the range of projects by Ponti around the city, we have decided to provide a map of his buildings, from Via Randaccio, 1925, to the church of San Francesco at Fopponino, 1961-1964. This route will be concretely followed with guided tours and visits, in collaboration with the scholars of the Milan Polytechnic.