Amaze through design, examine daily life with irony. Achille Castiglioni at the Triennale

Patricia Urquiola – a pupil of Castiglioni at the Politecnico – has created an exhibition which is rich with material, but at the same time maintains an atmosphere of lightness and fun, in perfect dialogue with her maestro.

“A Castiglioni”, veduta della mostra, Triennale di Milano, 2018

It is exactly one hundred years since the birth of the designer. The exhibition curated by Patricia Urquiola together with Federica Sala at the Milan Triennale aims to be neither celebratory nor strictly chronological. The itinerary is freely constructed around 20 thematic clusters, which form part of the creative mind of Castiglioni.

It is therefore a conceptual map, a geography allowing one to trace Achille’s thoughts, where – as Urquiola explains – “his ideas are very free and move in a very loose manner. Therefore, we have created a map of macro and micro concepts which are recurrent in his designs, set out within the exhibition space without hierarchical or linear constraints, but rather in a rhizomatic manner, just like a rhizome, Castiglioni’s thoughts lie in the centre, among the items, permanently connected”.

Two floors of the Triennale and 200 works exhibited immerse the visitor into the living world of the work and designs of Achille Castiglioni, which until 1968 were produced together with his brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo. Designs that speak of progress and innovation, through an ever-fresh and timeless vision. As Urquiola underlines, “his ideas go further, his designs go beyond time, his words are paths to be followed. Now. Always. To infinity”.

It is Patricia Urquiola herself – a pupil of Castiglioni at the Politecnico – who has set up an exhibition which is dense with materials and designs, but which maintains an atmosphere of lightness and fun, in an ideal dialogue with her maestro. The same design origins, the same irony. A dialogue which finds surprising and highly imaginative common ground in the installation TraParentisi:  just like 100 birthday candles, the 100 models of the Parentesi lamp illuminate and create a forest of sound - the movements of the visitors crossing the space activate sensors which randomly reproduce sounds of materials or the voice of Achille, reminding us that a material is also recognised and defined by the sound it produces when touched or tapped, or when it falls or breaks. The darkness of the room represents a profound representation of Castiglioni, his “ability to see himself with irony, as did Jacques Tati”: not taking himself too seriously, even if he worked seriously.

“A Castiglioni”, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2018
“A Castiglioni”, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2018. Photo Matteo Cirenei

Beginning with the first cluster, “L’è un gran Milan”, which contains the most important architectural designs, both built and not, focusing on the close personal and professional relationship between Castiglioni and his city, the exhibition develops through a series of rooms to be visited in order or randomly, following an open itinerary rich with infinite references, voyages and returns, curiosities, wonder and input.

There are designs for interiors, restaurants and showrooms which work on differing levels of the space (Dislivelli); displays where repetition becomes a theme in itself (Reiterare); designs related to the modernisation of communication, through telephones, accessories and modes of use (Se telefonando); experiments and products related to mirrors and reflections, to the image and its double; the more fun and wittier designs, dominated by “the joy of discovery through sincere and happy objects, which vibrate with genuine irony” (Morfismi); the search for form as “attractive functionality”, which Castiglioni studied in a wide range of domestic and every-day objects (Serviti e serventi); the pure and graceful enjoyment in dismantling-reassembling-collecting-recovering-accumulating (Playfulness), with the irresistible hat design shaped on a dessert mould; his interest in emptiness, not in the sense of absence or negation, but as an environment for investigation, for generating pauses, surprise, marking the rhythm of space (Vuoto); the designs for fittings and communication for trade fairs, in particular the national RAI exhibition, set up in collaboration with talented graphic designers such as Bruno Munari, Enzo Mari, Max Huber, Pino Tovaglia, Albe Steiner (Comunicare); the focus on simple and minimalist objects “as correspondence between technological rules and formal appearance”, but always free of dogmatism (Keep it simple). Furniture which folds and projects, the height-adjustable lighting which come to life in the spaces it occupies, introducing “new levels of complexity, in which the user is directly involved” (In Moto).

“A Castiglioni”, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2018
“A Castiglioni”, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2018. Photo Matteo Cirenei

With revolutionary grace and brilliant intuition, Castiglioni always worked on the complex simplicity of things. Always immune from the ambition to want to make a mark, but simply interested in “wanting to create an exchange, albeit small, with the unidentified person who will use the object you have designed”. An example is the much-loved switch Rompitratta - designed together with Pier Giacomo in 1968 - a simple, economical, functional and above all anonymous object. This is how design should be, according to Castiglioni. A lesson which, from the halls of the Politecnico where generations of designers trained, is still not that obvious and which is more than ever topical, in an era in which it is often the brand or the name of the designer which dominates over the intrinsic quality and meaning of an object.

Exhibition title:
A Castiglioni
Opening dates:
until 20 January 2019
Curated by:
Patricia Urquiola with Federica Sala
Triennale di Milano
viale Alemagna 6, Milan

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