Bruno Munari: art director, 1943-1944

The Milanese master's early career was marked by explorations in the graphic arts, advertising and art directing: during the difficult years of the war, from Autumn 1943 through the end of 1944, he was creative director of Domus.

Trained as an artist, Bruno Munari dabbled in the graphic arts, advertising and art directing world for several magazines and publications before settling as a designer. Graphic design historian Alessandro Colizzi recounts episodes from the Milanese master's early career when, from Autumn 1943 through the end of 1944, he was creative director of Domus.

During the 1930s, paralleling his artistic experience with the Futurist group in Milan, Bruno Munari also became a graphic designer and illustrator for magazines adopting an eclectic, but distinctly modern, position. When his collaboration with artist Riccardo "Ricas" Castagnedi ended in 1937 (after the latter joined the Domus publisher), Munari continued on a dual track working for publisher Bompiani and for the Montecatini group as a graphic designer.

In early 1939 he was hired as the art director for the new Mondadori magazines Grazia and Tempo where he remained until September 1943 when the war halted all publishing activities. At the end of the 1930s, Munari left the graphic avant-garde and advertising to embrace the possibilities offered by the emerging cultural industry, particularly the publishing sector. This shift put the artist/designer in an uncommon position for the time and in some ways anticipated the esteem he would gain on the professional scene only in the 1950s.
Top: Domus 193 / January 1944. Above: Domus 192 / December 1943
Top: Domus 193 / January 1944. Above: Domus 192 / December 1943
In the autumn of 1943, after his interlude at Mondadori, Munari resumed his relationship with Domus, which had been directed for some years by the team headed by Melchiorre Bega with Giuseppe Pagano and writer Massimo Bontempelli (formerly at Tempo ). In November 1940, Gio Ponti broke off with [Domus publisher] Gianni Mazzocchi to direct the new magazine Stile published by a competitor, Garzanti. If under the direction of Ponti, the magazine made modernity a point of reference and included applied arts, architecture and graphics, the Domus that Munari collaborated with from the autumn of 1943 through 1944 had become primarily an architecture periodical, similar to the monodisciplinary and specialized Casabella; in fact, since 1932 the two magazines belonged to the same publisher. Due to heavy allied bombing during the summer of '43, the editorial offices moved temporarily to Bergamo. After various vicissitudes, from January 1944, Melchiorre Bega, who had been alone until then, was joined by Lina Bo Bardi and Carlo Pagani. The growing economic difficulty in both obtaining paper and distributing the magazine due to German occupation of northern Italy eventually led to the interruption of publication for all of 1945.
Domus 191 / November 1943
Domus 191 / November 1943
Compared to the austere lines of the previous years, during this period the magazine adopted a more open and relaxed approach, which can certainly be tied to Munari's presence in the editorial offices.

"It was 1944, a difficult and dark year. But Munari's spirit was always serene, indomitable, optimistic. He collaborated with Domus, which I was directing as a "trio" (...) We were few and Bruno was with us. (...) Bruno, at the very beginning of '44, proposed an analysis of the alternation of styles over time. The chart published in Domus in February of that year, indicated the oscillation of the line between strictly controlled art forms — Reason — and other highly convoluted forms — Fantasy. With that increasingly frequent alternation, he posed the question, "What will the new style be like?" " [1]
In addition to being responsible for the magazine's graphics, Munari was also the author of articles addressing issues relating to the aesthetic problems of reconstruction or issues projected, in any case, beyond the end of war
Domus 194 / February 1944
Domus 194 / February 1944
In addition to being responsible for the magazine's graphics, Munari was also the author of articles addressing issues relating to the aesthetic problems of reconstruction (a concern also shared by Ponti's Stile ) or issues projected, in any case, beyond the end of war. In these writings, his tone always oscillated between didactic intention and ironic provocation. Visual content was crucial; text often acted as a simple caption for photomontages, photographic sequences or diagrams. The importance of this new commitment was confirmed by the publication of Fotocronache [photoreports] for Domus in 1944 — a collection of articles that had already appeared in Tempo — dedicated to curiosities, artistic coverage and even propaganda. Munari's articles were based on images and usually concluded with some humorous in-joke.

This "lightness" also appeared in the Domus layout where, beyond the simplicity of the typographical choices, the use of manual manipulation or images from old prints balanced the seriousness (and in some cases, the drama) of the chosen topics. With his experience at Mondadori, Munari worked predominantly on the double page, following an intuitive format having no predefined schemes; this allowed him great freedom in the combination of graphic elements (alternating painterly signs, halfcuts, textures and patterns), in the cropping of the photographs, in the use of overprinting and, in some cases, die-cutting.
Domus 194 / February 1944
Domus 194 / February 1944
This continuous variation of invention is the link between the adoption of constructivist aesthetics during the previous decade and the compromise through a less structured, more flexible and intuitive formula — in short, one more suited to his temperament — that characterized Munari's work after the 1940s. However, for popular magazines this translated into the sui generis modern graphic style — mannered and conservative — that was to be found in the pages of Grazia and Epoca in the early 1950s. Munari's layouts for Domus during the war remain some of his most mature editorial work, demonstrating his extraordinary skill and verve. As a graphic designer, Munari's commitment to issues of design and aesthetics resumed immediately after the war in the pages of Grazia (through a long series of informative articles) and, on another level, through the initiatives carried out by the artistic movement Movimento Arte Concreta [which brought concretism to fruition in Italy] and the numerous visual communications projects that characterized the second part of his prolific career. Alessandro Colizzi

Notes:
1. Carlo Pagani, in Beppe Finessi. Su Munari. 104. Milan: Abitare Segesta, 2005: pp.172–173.
Domus 195 / March 1944
Domus 195 / March 1944
Domus 195 / March 1944
Domus 195 / March 1944
Domus 195 / March 1944
Domus 195 / March 1944

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