Extraordinary interpreter of light design, multifaceted figure capable of seamlessly combining art, architecture and design in the name of a very personal research focused on the awareness of the spatial relationship, Nanda Vigo has been an unforgettable personality on the Italian and international art scene. She was a true cosmopolitan, sensitive above all to the call of Africa, where she lived intrigued by the symbology of the local cultures. She shaped the capacity for formal abstraction into a synthesis that combines both the cosmic introspection and the vortex to the absolute: a tension, her own tension, which results in the essential aesthetics of a definitive personality – the one that coincided with her proverbial and never disguised candour.
There was an incredible play of light that was constantly reflected in the spaces, bouncing off the architecture, and it modulated the shapes that kept moving because of the effects of the light, and this fact in particular got me so involved that, without realizing it, I set all my work on light reflections only.
Born in Milan in 1936, Nanda Vigo approached the poetics of light after having observed, at a very young age, the Casa del Fascio, designed by Giuseppe Terragni. Graduated from the Institut Polytechnique of Lausanne, she returned to Milan after an internship at Frank Lloyd Wright’s school in Taliesin West, which she didn’t really appreciate - the American hyper-specialization of those years didn’t match her inclination to the dialogue between disciplines – and opened her studio there in 1959. It was in the unrepeatable age of the avant-garde of those years that she began working on mass-produced industrial projects, multiples, installations, interior design, showrooms, private residences, alongside creatives such as Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani.
The predilection for artificial light, often enlivened by the presence of electric colours such as blue, purple, pink and yellow, goes hand in hand with the use of steel, mirrors, pressed glass, Perspex and industrial materials that lend themselves to the reflections of light and its shaping of space. The first outcome of this research was the chronotopic experience, which showed artworks in glass and light whose poetics will be synthesized in the Chronotopic Manifesto of 1964.
The light must be followed without resistance. It cannot but enlighten us.
After having established contacts with the Zero group, founded in Germany by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene and with whom she will exhibit several times throughout Europe, she began designing the ZERO house in Milan, a house with frosted glass walls equipped with a neon light system that defines the relationship between matter and space. She played a fundamental role in bearing the ideas of the movement to Italy and she was the curator of the legendary exhibition Zero avantgarde that Vigo set up in Fontana’s atelier presenting the work of 28 artists.
The collaboration with Gio Ponti, an unavoidable reference point with whom Vigo worked on the interiors of the residence Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia dates back to those years, when they conceived a monochrome and experimental environment, covered with tiles and grey eco-fur, where the artists’ works would converge in an integrated way. Her research with ceramics and absolute geometries goes back to the period of Remo Brindisi’s holiday home at Lido di Spina: one of her best-known projects, total architecture enlivened by the tension of the large cylindrical inner courtyard that arranges the spaces, now transformed into a home museum and permanent exhibition centre.
I am punctilious and fiery by temperament. What I have to say I always say. Besides, I’m proud. You must consider that I grew up, like others, in a culture of male domination. There was no other expression. It was either character or nothing. That’s it, it came out of the love for my work.
In tandem with this, from the 1960s to 2000 and beyond, the comparison with the world of mass-produced design was born: a commitment that Vigo developed by focusing on the lighting technology sector – let's think of the icons that are always oriented towards abstraction and absoluteness such as Golden Gate, Osiris, Utopia, Linea – without depriving herself of collaborations with the major furniture brands such as Acerbis, Driade, Glass Italia, which are flanked by more irreverent incursions, close to the radical season at times – the Due Più chairs, the Rokko table, along with many other pieces designed for private homes.
If Nanda Vigo’s work has always found numerous opportunities for exposure in the many exhibitions held in Italy and abroad – there are in fact over 400 exhibitions, including her participation in the 1982 Biennale, organized in sixty years of activity –, in recent years many international museums, from the Guggenheim in New York, the MAMM Museum in Moscow, the K11 Museum in Shanghai, to the Vitra Design Museum, seemed to have embarked on the path of rediscovery, which culminated in the great retrospective "Nanda Vigo. Light Project" held in 2019 at the Royal Palace of Milan.
Her lifetime achievement awards include the New York Industrial Design Award in 1971 for Golden Gate, the first Saint Gobain design award in 1976, the first Koiné prize for staging Piero Manzoni’s exhibition at the Royal Palace of Milan in 1998, the Compasso d’Oro for Light/Light shelves in 2001 and the first Wallpaper/Best Show award for the Genesis exhibition in London in 2008. The research, cataloguing and promotion of Nanda Vigo’s complete works is now entrusted to the homonymous Archive, opened in 2013 by the will of the artist herself.
Opening image: Nanda Vigo, Cronotopia. Photo Nini and Ugo Mulas