14/05/2021 | DESIGN, PEOPLE


Posted by: Gisella Borioli, interview

Architect, curator, professor at the Politecnico di Milano, editorial director but above all, since 1998, Design permanent collection Curator at Triennale Museum in Milan and Director of the first city Design Museum, designed by Michele De Lucchi, where she remains until 2019. In 2016 she opened up a window on female creativity with “W. Women in Italian Design" exhibition. Who better than her can tell us about Donne & Design?

You were director of the first Design Museum in Milan. A very important role for a woman 13 years ago. How did you get there?
Thank you for remembering it: the first Design Museum in Italy was founded in Milan in 2007 and for 11 years it has investigated Italian design's history starting from different questions and doubts, because there is no official, clear and universally shared design history. A “mutant Museum” where every year the visitor, during the Salone del Mobile, found a new narrative created by several curators, with hybrids and disciplinary enlargements necessary for an understanding of design discipline. It was an innovative, non-canonical idea, not flattened to the traditional conformation of figurative art history's museums. However I honestly arrived at the Triennale in 1998 and for 7 years I worked to lay the foundations for the Museum creation, from the creation of Italian design permanent collection (starting from the original Collection core assembled by Giampiero Bosoni), now transformed into a Design Museum, to the creation of necessary services to run a Museum (the Project Library, acquisitions of archives, creation of Museum studies, the first dedicated to Achille Castiglioni, a restoration laboratory, permanent educational workshops, etc.) , a widespread export campaign of Italian design all over the world...
I arrived at Triennale after some important international experiences, especially in countries of the southern hemisphere, and after years of vice-direction of Modo magazine. At Triennale I was selected by an undisputed Maestro like Tomas Maldonado: under the chairmanship first of Alfredo De Marzio, then of Augusto Morello, Davide Rampello and Claudio De Albertis. It was an exciting and important job, which I believe made an original contribution to the consolidation of design culture within the city of Milan, and making Milan not only the commercial but also the cultural capital of design.

A different “museum”, designed with Michele De Lucchi. With what common starting point?
The initial idea, designing our "mutant" Museum, was that design is made up of everyday objects, but with very strong implications with the world of art, architecture... It had to be a design Museum capable of working on relationships that objects have had and have with our lives! Design is a discipline still alive, vital, in continuous evolution. It must be questioned, even before being monumentalised.
If we had limited ourselves just lining up inanimate objects, with some explanatory technical captions, simply triggering a nostalgic effect, or the vintage thrill, the risk would have been to create a museum-mausoleum, a necropolis-museum, a cemetery-museum. We wanted to create a broad and fairly heterogeneous audience. It was to be placed in the most visible point of the Palace designed by Muzio, on the first floor with a view and a window on the main staircase. De Lucchi has done an extraordinary philological work on Muzio's original documents to restore the curve spaces to their authenticity, giving airiness and transparency, thus making the extraordinary architecture of the Thirties reappear. He introduced with courage and kindness an innovative element, the bamboo bridge suspended on the staircase to give a strong visual impact and a new circulation. Even this intervention was respectful of Muzio, since the Staircase volume has always been a scene for large installations. There is a beautiful publication Michele De Lucchi. The Design Museum and the new Triennale telling all the interventions carried out in 5 years for the redevelopment of the Palace designed by Muzio.

W. Women in Italian Design exhibition in 2016 was unforgettable. Attendees choice was very wide and transversal (I was there if I’n not a designer too). What was the basic idea?
The idea was to reveal a submerged continent. Italian design strories, mostly written by men, have at best 5 or 6 women designers, always the same: Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Gae Aulenti, Cini Boeri and a few others. I have counted and proposed more than 400! Italian design in the twentieth century was indisputably a patriarchal design, with few exceptions. As if women weren't there.
At first, however, there were women. They spun, wove, intertwined fabrics, shaped ceramics, worked wood, invented forms and solutions for living and dressing, conceived new trends, but it was difficult for them to carve out a leading role, they often worked in the shadow of some man. An example? The Day-bed 1930 was not only the work of Miles van der Rohe genius, but above all of his partner, Lilly Reich. The exhibition wanted to fill this female "suppression", telling the "invisible presence" of women in design history, from the early twentieth century until now. A presence still too little known, a quantitatively and qualitatively relevant presence that, to present day, has instead been hidden, underestimated, marginalized with feigned carelessness by contemporary critics and historiography. There were not only designers in this Museum edition: there were art dealers, journalists, teachers, collectors, aware that design galaxy is increasingly complex and must be investigated in its fascinating multiplicity.

Little by little, women’s creativity has laboriously jumped into the spotlight. Do you think you have been a pioneer in this sense?
Before me and W. Women in Italian Design there had already been studies and research aimed at enlighten the women role in Italian design’s history. I am thinking, for example, of Anty Pansera, or Marion Vignal. Certainly the Museum at the Triennale edition has brought the question out of the academic sphere, from the reflection among scholars, and has made it a political-cultural problem. Not only that: the huge number of visitors who went to the Triennale for W. Women in Italian Design has now made impossible any historiographical hypothesis not keeping in mind the role and contribution of women. We are really facing a paradigm shift.

Today Superstudio takes up this theme on the occasion of Milan Design Week return after two editions missed. And it called you as a curator. Has the female scene changed?
It's changed quantitatively, because women are so much more, and qualitatively, because they are more aware of their role, and have less psychological subjection to a traditionally patriarchal discipline such as design. On some issues, such as sustainability, or reuse design, women are in the front row. They have a cosmopolitan vision, talk to the world, know no borders and are very quick identifying emerging problems that design can and must try to give answers to!

Why are there many design and architecture female students in Italy but the well-known and established professionals are few?
In reality, the number of women who are establishing themselves is increasingly important. And the show that we will do in September will highlight this and help shed light on this new wave charged and powerful with new lymph and fertility for the future of the project.

Even knowing that creativity has no gender, do you also find any specific differences between the feminine or masculine approach to design?
Women’s design is certainly less affirmative, less authoritarian, more spontaneous and dynamic. It is characterized by a touch made of a particular emotional charge, sensitivity, participation. Women have had the merit of bringing the emotional part, affection, even fragility into design world, and above all they did not care about leaving indelible marks... Often women's design is not limited to making objects, but produces experiences, weaves and relationships, putting the caregiving as a focus of their research. From these creations emerge lightness, poetry, the ability to dream, subtle irony, spontaneity, the will to free oneself from constraints and prejudices, both from an aesthetic and functional point of view. Women create, design, experiment, risk, challenge, in a soft, pervasive, capillary, fragmentary, delicate, daily way, with a sensitivity towards space and objects, due to centuries-old domestic habits. Women also favor the use of new materials and eco-sustainable techniques, experiencing.

If you had to point out three very valuable contemporary women, visionary architects and designers, in your opinion, who would they be?
Hard question. There are many women of value. However I like to point out three women I have seen grow over the years that I am fond of. Alessandra Baldereschi for her poetic and romantic vision, Francesca Lanzavecchia for her attention to vulnerable groups, Elena Salmistraro for her explosive charge.