Bruno Munari’s Zizì monkey is not a toy anymore

The project, born from the encounter between the designer and polyurethane, is now revived as a collector’s item in a limited edition.

This article was originally published on Domus 1076, February 2023.

A skeleton in copper wire covered in 25 grams of foam rubber. With only two materials, in the early 1950s Bruno Munari (Milan, 1907-1998) created Zizì, a small, minimal and flexible object, a smiling monkey with jointed limbs.

The Milanese artist, designer and philosopher thereby demonstrated to Gruppo Pirelli, with which he collaborated after World War II, the potential uses of polyurethane foam, a new material that was driving design into contemporary times. 

Domus 276, November 1952
Domus 276, November 1952

Munari’s toy, or rather art, “thus became part of the world of mass production”, as Domus commented in 1952, publishing the designer’s executive drawing and photos of Zizì, which can be freely bent into a series of amusing poses, all thanks to the metal wire inside its long, jointed limbs, prehensile hands and tail.

With his spontaneity and customary irony, Munari turned foam rubber into an object intended to stimulate children’s imagination; not only to be looked at, but also touched, manipulated and personalised. Zizì’s flexibility also encourages flexibility in the minds of its users, in line with the educational approach of Munari, who saw play as a way to keep the mind active and stimulate creativity.

The monkey did not go unobserved: it won the Compasso d’Oro in 1954 and entered the pantheon of Italian design, where it will stay forever. It is not just a toy, but rather a tangible expression of experimentation and the creative application of modern materials.

The Zizì monkey by Bruno Munari reissued by Corraini Edizioni
The Zizì monkey by Bruno Munari reissued by Corraini Edizioni

Corraini Edizioni, which for over 40 years has been publishing the intersection and intermingling of the arts, standing out with its philological accuracy and respect in reissuing Munari’s designs, is now honouring the artist’s brilliance by reproposing a limited edition of the miniature Zizì.

Corraini’s project starts from a stock of monkeys manufactured in 2007 but never completed. Each Zizì has been painstakingly finished and painted by hand, with a brown body and smiling white face. The packaging was also conceived by Munari: a light cage from which to free the jointed stimulator of creativity, which will make its way into our homes. 

Thanks to an artisanal process, the Zizì monkeys are available once again, as intended by Munari. Precisely due to its material, dated and fragile qualities, today Zizì cannot just be considered a plaything, but rather a small toy animal to collect and care for. Delicate and cherishable, the reissue of Zizì pays homage to a successful page in design history, commemorating the “most flexible” and modern expression of Munari’s educational and experimental approach.

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