50 years of design

Showcasing 140 works from European and US museums, the exhibition on Italian designer and theoretician Andrea Branzi recounts 50 years of creative career, in the beautiful mediaeval church of Saint-Rémi, Bordeaux.

Andrea Branzi Bordeaux
France reiterated its huge and longstanding consideration for Italian architect, designer and theoretician Andrea Branzi when the most comprehensive retrospective ever of his work opened in Bordeaux on 10 October: 140 works from European and US museums and galleries such as the Centre Pompidou and CNAP in Paris, FRAC in Orléans, MUDE in Lisbon and CSAC in Parma.

After his two solo exhibitions in Paris, “Open Enclosures” at the Fondation Cartier (2008) and “Grandi Legni” at the Galerie Alaïa (2009), we now follow an excursus that starts from his debut with Archizoom associates, a key presence in radical architecture, and continues to the present day.

The curator Constance Rubini, director of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Bordeaux, decided to showcase his work in the beautiful mediaeval church of Saint-Rémi.

Andrea Branzi
Opening: Andrea Branzi, maquette Metropoli Merceologica, 2010. Photo Daniele Macchi. Above: Andrea Branzi, aviary Pergamo, Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, 2013
Gallimard has published an exhaustive monograph on the architect’s work in conjunction with the exhibition. In its foreword, Rubini explains that venturing into Andrea Branzi’s work is like entering a big house in which every door opens onto a different space.
Andrea Branzi
Andrea Branzi: vase Gelsomino, ed. Design Gallery 2000. Photo Lysiane Gauthier

Branzi was a founder of the Italian Radical Architecture movement first and subsequently Nuovo Design Italiano, he played a key role in Alchimia and Memphis, and he released design from the Functionalist constraints, giving free rein to its poetic and narrative energy, and rejecting the happy ending to which the Modern masters and slick appearance of some contemporary design had accustomed us.

We see the different stages of his career in a themed succession that starts in 1966: the year of his university dissertation “Luna Park a Prato” (Centre Pompidou collection); of the birth of Archizoom; and of the “Superarchitettura” exhibition – a seminal moment for Italian radical design. In those years, he worked with Poltronova, which produced the dynamic Superonda sofa (1966), the Mies chair (1968) and the modular Safari sofa – all Pop pieces seeking to overturn the rules of middle-class living.

Andrea Branzi
Left: Andrea Branzi, Tree, Carpenters Workshop Gallery, 2010. Photo Erik and Petra Hesmerg. Right: view of the exhibition dedicated to Andrea Branzi in the Church of Saint-Remi, Bordeaux. Photo Daniele Macchi
Alchimia and Memphis spawned a “new craftsmanship” that favoured the expressive potential of design outside industrial production and the exhibition shows rare prototypes, iconic pieces such as Bar Centrale and Bar Milano (1979), and the Andrea chaise longue (1982). 1985 saw his first solo exhibition entitled “Animali Domestici” and featuring tree trunks and branches in their primitive state combined with simply designed seating to produce a new hybrid language that influenced generations of designers and, indeed, continues to do so. The natural/artificial comparison became a cornerstone of the Branzi poetic. In this room, the pieces assume a poetic and magical aura before eventually also consecrating technology, with his Wireless lamps: soft bluish light emerging from simple kitchen utensils, sacred flames the protective gods of our domesticity.
Andrea Branzi
Left: Andrea Branzi, vase Ipomea Maculata, collection Jointed Glass, Design Gallery 2000. Photo Lysiane Gauthier. Right: Andrea Branzi, vasi Silver & Wood, Argentaurum 1997. Photo Daniele Macchi

Art craftsmanship become a “gigantic place of experimentation” is seen here in a mirror viewer that endlessly multiplies a landscape of ceramic and porcelain works, including notably Louis XXI, porcelaine humaine (Manufacture de Sèvres): pale pink chalices in the sensual flesh colour of a woman’s skin, fine presences so transparent they are seemingly without substance.

The dramatic tension reached a peak in his works of the third millennium, in which the architect brought together a miscellany of fragments from different epochs, recomposed in a poetic dominated by amnesia and mystery, and not lacking in sophisticated, subtle and very Yiddish irony (Branzi is of Jewish origin). At the press conference, the architect explained that irony is part of life and allows him to look at worldly things without being devoured by them. Hence his Walls (2014), fresco-furniture filling the space of the Friedman-Benda gallery in New York with a slightly Pompeian air, are matched by humble storage furniture for domestic chores.

Andrea Branzi
Left: Andrea Branzi, vase of the collection Portali, Superego Editions 2007. Photo Lysiane Gauthier. Right: Andrea Branzi, vase Simbiosi, 2004-2005, gallery Clio Calvi and Rudi Volpi, realisation CIRVA Marseille. Photo Lysiane Gauthier
The same occurs with Grandi Legni (2008), a turning point in his poetic prompted by collaboration with Design Gallery and Nilufar. These are part of what the curator calls “a change of scale”, both real and figured. Large works addressing anthropological themes such as life and death, the eros and life; they contain mosaics, frescoes, cages, cardboard boxes and iconographic fragments of various provenance. Branzi is fascinated by the dark depths of the material world and the design of objects that can stir an emotion and stand against contemporary myths and those of antiquity, against Christian mysticism and Tibetan demons.
Andrea Branzi
Andrea Branzi, Wireless lights, Design Gallery 1996. Photo Daniele Macchi
Quella di Branzi è una narrazione che mette al centro la sacralizzazione del quotidiano: nella voliera Pergamo per la Galleria Bortolozzi di Berlino due canarini diventano coprotagonisti dell’opera.

Branzi’s narration centres on the sacralisation of everyday life with two canaries being the co-protagonists of his Pergamo bird cage for the Bortolozzi gallery in Berlin.

In the nave of the church of Saint-Remi, the visitor’s gaze is drawn to a large ring wound around a monumental column to accommodate a number of vases, objects that have long occupied a key place in Andrea Branzi’s poetic. They are “autonomous spaces, micro places given over to what may seem superfluous but without which all becomes pointless: a space for flowers, for the sacred objects of the lay civilisation” (A.B. 2007). The works are the fruit of collaboration with galleries such as Clio Calvi and Rudy Volpi, Metea, Charles Zana, The Gallery Bruxelles and institutions such as Cirva in Marseille.

Andrea Branzi
Andrea Branzi, vases Amnesie, Design Gallery, 1991. Photo Lysiane Gauthier

Underscoring the both sacred and domestic dimension are not only flowers but stones, dry leaves and vegetables: apples and small pumpkins?? are arranged with a care reminiscent of the art of Ikebana.

The exhibition extends to “No-Stop City Vision de Ville” by Arc en  Rêve Centre d’Architecture. This prologue takes its name from his fundamental 1969 project with Archizoom, representing the theory behind Branzi’s work. The dimension of the endless city, which dissolves and is broken up to become simply a flow of commodities, is clarified in the No-Stop City and No-Stop Theater models and those presented at the  2010 Venice Architecture Biennale with the title “For a New Athens Charter”, expressing the need to rethink a city no longer based on zoning, as suggested by Le Corbusier in the document of the same title.

Andrea Branzi
Left: Andrea Branzi, chair Animali Domestici, Zabro 1985, lights Wireless, Design Gallery 1996, lytographies Legni, Lithos 2008. Photo Lysiane Gauthier. Right: Andrea Branzi, Grandi Legni, Design Gallery e Nilufar 2010. Photo Ruy Teixeira
Andrea Branzi is an architect but has built very little, as he himself points out, and his work has always focused on research and experimentation. EBABX-École d'Enseignement Supérieur d'Art de Bordeaux  therefore asked its students to work on “Écouter Andrea B.”, starting from the architect’s vast theoretical career and his extensive production of books, articles and essays, testimony to militant criticism.
Andrea Branzi
Andrea Branzi, from left: light Luoghi, Design Gallery 1992, sofa Axale, Cassina 1988; bench abd chair Animali Domestici, Zabro 1985, light Wireless, Design Gallery 1996. Photo Daniele Macchi
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