Few people have the ability to grasp and condition the spirit of their age like Alessandro Mendini. For some decades now he has been the authoritative and provocative reference – directly or indirectly, by affinity or by contrast – of international creative production and reflection: from design to publishing, fashion to graphics, architecture to art. Since the mid-1960s he has detected, thanks to his ultra-sensitive antennae, the moods of the time, translating them, with variable ensemble, into the components of his own highly personal, miniature, portable cosmogony: a “rewriting” – kaleidoscopic, ironic, pragmatically fragmentary – of the universe conformed by human action.
A “rewriting” that is rendered explicit sub specie of an aesthetic dust layered upon the world, like in a careful reading of relations between entities, objects, products, authors, up to translating these into a system: each time, an architecture, a family of objects, a product catalogue, a publishing project … Each chapter in the story is treated with the awareness of temporal dynamics related to the parabola of taste: fast for fashion, average for design, slow for architecture. Each project is rooted in its own time, but it can detach from time, to underline its own quality. Not a current quality, in the words of Mendini, the expression of discard, unleashed by “cyclical time”, that is, by the “return and reflux of distant ideas and by the stellar intermingling of many, different components”: this is the contribution of Alchimia and of the countless work groups created and reassembled, one design at a time, until and beyond the creation of the Atelier, which from a Renaissance workshop became an invaluable partner. What results are “fragments of a visual system” in which we find, in (in)different scale, past and future, craftsmanship and industry, refined quotation and eulogy of the banal, in an eclectic equilibrium.
Architecture, too, legitimately plays a part in this system: but as an exquisitely expressionist phenomenon, unleashed “by the impossibility to propose, today, urban meaning and roles”. Like objects, furnishings and surfaces, it becomes a three-dimensional support upon which to layer those “fragments of the contemporary imaginary” elaborated in the form of signs, colours, images, decorative elements – always the same, yet always different.
An exhibition at the Triennale di Milano gives us the opportunity to learn more about this important aspect of Mendini’s visual system: “Abet Laminati. Atelier Mendini. Le Architetture”, curated by Aldo Colonetti, presents, in the form of models, 26 designs from the over 130 elaborated by Alessandro and Francesco Mendini, the majority of which with the Atelier. A show that is seemingly simple, which offers multiple interpretation hypotheses. Integrated with drawings, photos and videos, it above all allows visitors to appreciate the variety of architecture that shares the same investigation of colour and of surfaces, also thanks to the rich catalogue (based on the graphic design by Studio Sonnoli) and an impassioned reading by Peter Weiss.
In some cases, like the well-known Groningen Museum, or in more recent interventions in Trieste (Polo Natatorio Bruno Bianchi) or in Milan (Teatro dei Burattini in the Triennale garden), the Atelier’s investigations unfold in claddings and finishes provided by the “agnostic qualities” of a material that has played a decisive role in the affirmation of the expressive languages of innovative groups like Alchimia and Memphis: laminate. The exhibition, therefore, underlines his longstanding collaboration with Abet Laminati, a laminate manufacturer from Bra, allowing visitors to also appreciate the evolution of décor and production techniques.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the show – the visual focus of which is the dome of the Museo Universale for Documenta 8 in Kassel – lies in the models themselves: not reductions of architecture conceived for an elsewhere in large scale but, as Francesco Mendini emphasises, “backstage fragments accompanied on the stage”, autonomous designs ideally conceived in a reciprocal sculptural relationship, in an unpredictable temporal succession.
“I’m a designer who applies to architecture and design certain methods typical of an artist’s behaviour; and vice-versa, I’m a painter who in order to paint uses certain methods belonging to design”. Recently, we were reminded of this by the director Antonio Syxty, in a theatrical performance lasting more than three hours (over two evenings), “Architettura addio”, which distils Mendini’s impressive theoretical work.
If you’re expecting an on stage evocation of the mocking and multicoloured visual magic evoked by the Poltrona di Proust on the playbill; or the appearance of Mendini himself as an ironic Harlequin, or ram-Mendino – as he did in 2006 for the divertissement of Italo Rota and Fabio Novembre “Waiting for Go.”, you are mistaken. Six young people – three men and three women – led by Susanna Baccari in a choreography made up of a behavioural environment, perform excerpts of his writings. On the stage, introduced by John Cage’s Silence, we see out of focus images in black and white, details of the performers’ moving bodies, small obsessive-compulsive gestures that allude to the “sentimental robot” and the “unnatural body”. Working with words, Syxty renders a conceptual image that is surprisingly aniconic, which restores the visionary and corrosive power of Mendini’s writings.
A repeat of the performance is scheduled as a Fuorisalone event during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2018, on Saturday 21 April in the Aula Magna at the Università Statale degli Studi di Milano. Alessandro Mendini and Antonio Syxty will be present in the audience.
- Exhibition title:
- Abet Laminati. Atelier Mendini. Le Architetture
- Aldo Colonetti
- 12 aprile – 6 maggio 2018
- Triennale di Milano
- viale Alemagna 6, Milano