Lawrence Ferlinghetti Io Sono te? (I am you?) table
Lawrence Ferlinghetti table , Mimmo Paladino Gold cabinet, Giorgio Cattano Mammut (Mammoth) bench
Mimmo Paladino: Gold cabinet, Black & White cabinet & mirror
Marcello Morandini: Posseduta (Possessed) arm chair, Risoluta (Resolute) bench
Marcello Morandini: Posseduta (Possessed) arm chair, Risoluta (Resolute) bench (detail)
Marcello Morandini: Contenuta (Contained) cabinet
Mimmo Paladino: Gold cabinet
Mimmo Paladino: Scudo (Shield) cabinet and table
Mimmo Paladino: sword (detail) from his table-Battaglia di San Romano (the Battle of San Romano)
Alessandro Munari: Disordinata (Disorganized) totem cabinet
Cleto Munari: Palafitte (Pilings) table & Alessandro Munari: Disordinata Collection (Disorganized)
Mark Strand Tavolo table
Mark Strand drawing
Avant-Design: Divine Dissonance. The Magnificent Seven Series & The Cleto Munari Furnishings Collection
by Natalie Fasano
In his 1939 essay, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Carl Greenberg wrote, “If the avant-garde imitates the processes of art, kitsch, we now see, imitates its effects.” Though Greenberg later amended his more controversial positions on taste, kitsch and the mass market; namely, that the socialist model provided the only political framework capable of proliferating “good taste” to the masses, his musings on the nature and attitudes of the avant-garde remain foundational for seriously examining an evolving artistic movement.
Cleto Munari Design Associates was founded in 1972, the product of the eponymous designer’s intense and lifelong relationship with avant-garde architect, and thesis advisor to Mario Botta, Carlo Scarpa. Joining the company in 1993, Alessandro Munari continues with his uncle to uphold the company’s interest in the preservation of the artistic process and adherence to the artist’s interminable and individual search of both truth and goodness within the confines, and under the control of, the dictates of his or her chosen medium.
“My story is a simple one,” says Cleto Munari of his artistic vision; “one of friendship with those who have shared my love of art, design, poetry, of working and "making" things… Like all the other people I worked with, I wanted to represent the single designers' ideas and philosophy, especially those ones which did not belong to the well-defined and limited world of design…I have always meant to realize something unique in the world market and touch, when possible, an ideal of beauty which has always been my distant horizon.” “The Magnificent Seven Series,” now on view at the GD Cucine showroom, 227 West 17th St. in New York City, features a limited edition series of furniture, rugs, cabinetry and other household objects, designed in collaboration with seven leading avant garde designers architects, painters, sculptors and literary figures of the mid to late 20th century: Marc Strand, Mimmo Paladino, Marcello Morandini, Giorgio Cattano, Dario Fo, Alessandro Mendini, and Mario Botta. With this new series, the Munari’s have once again proven their uncanny ability to translate an artist’s individual aesthetic—in any medium—into fluid and functional designs.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am you?” aluminum and printed glass dining table is among the more arresting pieces on display. The base of the glass features a cascade of colored rectangles; each neither bleeding into nor refracted from its successor. Upon this bed of geometric color lies an abstract nude, suggesting the presence of both man and woman, yet without recognizable beginning—or end—to form. Composed in thick deliberate caresses of white paint, it is a work of both the painter’s self-reflection and admiration of another. Considered the father of the “Beat” movement, Ferlinghetti (b. 1914), Yonkers born poet, anarchist and painter, interprets the role of the artist as inextricable from that of the political and social activist. His poem, “I am you?” elaborates on his vision of mankind, distilled even past the point of gender, in the pursuit of some absolute and unified truth: “Man half woman/Woman half man…in each of us androgynous…I would say/there is only one here/in the end as in the beginning/one body breathing/one body singing/and the body is us/the body is our selves/and I am you.”
Where Ferlinghetti saw the artist as a necessary cog in the machine of social and political revolution Mark Strand (b. 1934), Canadian poet and critic’s brand of bohemianism goes further, to the artist’s ultimate removal from society. Rather than be influenced by the confusing and conflicting ideologies of the late 60’s, this new school of Beat poets, in an effort to isolate themselves from the conflict above, went underground. Trying to make sense of the oppressive anxiety, self-consciousness, and fear of the period, they pursued sense in the individual human experience, and a self-sustaining, poetic form—of sound, stanza and self. Strand’s “Man and Camel” table, made of aluminum and sand blasted glass, is an object of extreme beauty; the materials are aptly chosen, as Strand’s poem references the “sifting sound of windblown sand.”
In a period marked by artistic efforts at “going further,” Sandro Chia and Mimmo Paladino emerged as the fathers and forerunners of the Italian Transavanguardia (beyond avant garde) movement of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Thiers was a period marked by confusion, when artistic schools and movements had become as varied as their students, and each influenced by one of many possible permutations of the complex and conflicting political ideologies running rampant across the social landscape. Greenberg, in his 1968 essay and apology for “Kitsch,” “Avant Garde Attitudes” said of art: “everything conspires, it seems, in the interests of confusion. The different mediums are exploding…not only the boundaries of art, but the boundaries between art and everything that is not art are being obliterated…And to add to the confusion, high art is on the way to becoming popular art, and vice versa.”
Drawing from the neoclassical model, the Transavanguardia artists positioned themselves in direct defiance of the anti-intellectual environment engendered by what they perceived to be the minimalist and conceptual artistic and design movements gone too far. They worked to reinsert the emotional into the experience of contemporary art, a world that had gone too far in the distillation of complex and difficult emotions to those too simple, too kitsch and far too interested capitalistic tendencies towards mass production and appeal. Drawing from figurative art and symbolism as well rural tradition and ancient forms, Paladino and Chia’s designs regained control over their individual artistic processes and mediums, repatriating the pieces of the fragmented soul (Ferlinghetti’s Man and Woman, perhaps?) into a single, unified work of art. Of the “Magnificent Seven” series, two carpets, “Le facette” by Chia and “Battaglie di San Romano” provide an audience with wonderful opportunity, at both comparison of two great contemporaries and better understanding of a highly complex and difficult moment in art history. Made of the exact same materials and dimensions, the pieces leave one’s eye to subjective consideration, allowing one to trace the artist within the image without obstacle.
“Art in any medium,” Greenberg wrote, “boiled down to what it does in the experiencing of it, creates itself through relations, proportions. The quality of the art depends on inspired, felt relations or proportions as on nothing else…no amount of phenomenal, describable newness avails when the internal relations of the work have not been felt, inspired, discovered.” Marcello Morandini’s signature black and white geometric patterns indicate the advent of controlled graphic design and the Futarist movement. Like the Transavanguardia artists, Morandini’s plastic designs are suggestive of movement, yet they do not rely on representational themes to generate mass appeal. Instead, they exist solely for and of themselves.
"The Magnificent Seven” transforms the “well-defined and limited” world of design into one of innumerable creative possibilities. Cleto Munari had already encountered Scarpa’s drawings, shaping his friend’s outlines into recognizable forms—images of tables, chairs and cabinetry were derived from Scarpa’s landscapes and urban monuments. This experimentation soon led to others. Most recently, Munari conceived of a series of furniture, and called upon his friends; the founders, detractors and defenders of the avant-garde movement, to help him realize it. This startling openness to collaboration, at times outside of an artist’s realm of personal experience, is refreshing.
The creative depth exhibited by artists throughout the period of production and design is scrupulously documented in an exhibition folio, published alongside every Munari launch. Formatted beautifully, and with acute attention to editorial cohesion and fluidity, these publications provide their audience both with detailed information to potential collectors as well as an entertaining story, for anyone interested in the production process. By focusing on spatial context, Munari and GD Cucine highlights the relational dynamic of each chair, mirror, carpet, cabinet and table situated in the large, two story showroom.
Munari’s close attention to context assures that the intellectual value of each work, the emotion, is not lost. He chose to augment this element, emphasizing this element of artistic effect. Coquettes, one admires them initially for their singular beauty, and perfection of form. On reflection, however, one finds a wink, a hint at something more universal as each piece finds itself always already evoking emotions rooted in the movement of cultural memories-- and it's there we recall what it means to say we're human.
The emotion invoked upon consideration is eventually recognized as nothing unique itself, but it is recognized as a shared part of some blissfully intuited, yet untouchable, whole.