Understanding the greatness of Gabriella Crespi’s design

A woman in a man’s world who has been underestimated for too long, Crespi and her creations return to the spotlight five years after her death in an exhibition at Nilufar’s. Here is why she is worth a visit.

Some people persist in considering and calling her an artisan of luxury. However, this definition is only partially relevant and, in any case, reductive. Gabriella Crespi, born in 1922 and passing away in 2017 at the age of 95, was much more than that. She was an arbiter of taste and an embodiment of elegance in the bourgeois salons of the 1970s and 1980s. She was an audacious experimenter and creator of prototypes, and also a restless, curious soul driven by a profound need for inner exploration and for reconciliation – striving to find a balance between empirical work and her inclination towards spirituality and innovation. The courage to change, to say the least, she truly possessed.

In the mid-1980s, at the peak of her success, having created some of her most cherished and celebrated works, including the Plurimi table sculptures, she made a bold decision to abandon it all. She headed to the East, to the Himalayas, in search of herself. She understood that sometimes, to discover oneself, one must confront the Other. Gabriella boldly did just that – a feat that few, not only in the field of design, have had the courage to undertake.

Caleidoscopio floor lamp. Photo Filippo Pincolini

She, as a woman in a man’s world, remained steadfast in her commitment to crafting unique pieces of the highest craftsmanship, rejecting mass production and industrial implications. Her goal was to find in the elegance of objects, sculptures, jewelry, and furnishings the tangible reflection of inner beauty, balance, and harmony that she initially sought within herself.

Gabriella’s contributions were often underestimated or overlooked by the prevailing standards of taste. It took until she was past 90 years old, in 2016, for some of her pieces to gain recognition at the Milan Triennale, a temple of design. From October 25 to January 25, 2024, Gabriella Crespi finally takes center stage in an exhibition at the Nilufar gallery in Via della Spiga, Milan. “Gabriella”, says Nina Yashar, the historical founder and passionate curator of Nilufar, “lived in an ‘industrial design’ milieu that often failed to comprehend and fully appreciate her talent. Today, however, her creations deserve full recognition, and that is the goal of our exhibition”. 

Gabriella Crespi’s signature close up. Photo Filippo Pincolini

Between Gabriella and Nina, there seems to be an intimate and profound elective affinity. “I sense that I too connect with the interplay between matter and spirit that animates Crespi’s work”, Nina confides. She adds: “Nilufar, too, is committed to the enhancement of form through matter and the inherent narrative it conveys and possesses. It is in the quest for deeper meanings that objects become vehicles for inner exploration”.

Throughout her lifetime, Gabriella Crespi pursued this quest diligently. Through her judicious selection of materials (bamboo, rattan, bronze), and the use of rare metals and natural essences, and her reliance on skilled master craftsmen, inheritors of Italy’s rich creative legacy, she breathed life into artifacts of rare and often visionary beauty. If Nina were to select a couple of pieces to take home, her choices would be clear: “Classics like the Plurimi table and the Rising Sun lamp. But for the perfect synthesis of form and function”, she adds, she would grab “lamps like Fungo, Obelisco, Caleidoscopio and Scudo too”.

In each of Gabriella’s objects, however, the connotations of her creativity shine through: simplicity, elegance, discretion, originality, vitality. Coupled with a dynamic and tension that elevates the object beyond its mere functional purpose, transforming it into a symbol of a quest that transcends it. 

Opening image: Gabriella Crespi among her Kaleidoscope lamps in 1974. Photo Archivio Gabriella Crespi by Miussy Werner

Gabriella Crespi
Nilufar, Via della Spiga 32, Milan (Italy)
from October 25 to January 25
Curated by:
Nilufar | Nina Yashar

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