Marco Sammicheli, director of Triennale Milano’s Museo del Design Italiano, has talked with us about the exhibition “La tradizione del nuovo”, at the 23rd Triennale, extended to January 8, 2023
“La tradizione del nuovo” is the title of the Italian Pavilion at the 23rd Triennale di Milano, an exhibition dedicated to Italian design and its long tradition of experimentation. We have talked with curator Marco Sammicheli, director of Triennale Milano’s Museo del Design Italiano, about the exhibition, design and communication.
How did the idea for the exhibition ‘La tradizione del nuovo’ come about?
When I started working on the 23rd Triennale, with President Stefano Boeri and curator Francis Kéré, first of all, I asked myself what relationship we could establish between Museo del Design and the 23rd International Exhibition. Looking at previous exhibitions, I realized that we had imagined worlds and formulated questions to which we had not given answers. Therefore, it seemed natural to me to retrace the history of the Triennale and to propose new questions to which we would try to offer answers and reflections. Our lives are full of major themes that we observe carefully: for example, the relationship between leisure and work time, the relationship between ecology and politics, urban regeneration, analyzed through furniture.
Based on these themes, I have built an exhibition that functions as a highway ideally: on the left, a ‘lane’ containing the chronology from 1964 to 1996; next to it, several in-depth sections, telling the stories of proximity, phenomena, certain themes or the role of certain people. This chronological narrative, spanning over 30 years, is the story of Italian design in all its many facets, a story characterized by the “tradition of the new.”
So, what does ‘La tradizione del nuovo’ mean?
‘La tradizione del nuovo’ (‘The tradition of the new’) is the Italian aptitude for experimentation and research that characterized Italian design after World War II, a kind of compulsion to constantly seek novelty; it is therefore a tradition, something that is repeated, but each time it is something new. Starting from the theme of the 23rd Triennale, ‘Unknown Unknowns’, I thought we could explore icons that belong to our everyday life – how they were born and what they have become. The exhibition ‘La tradizione del nuovo’, in fact, is the first one you encounter when visiting the 23rd Triennale, so it is a first step toward ‘Unknown Unknowns’, where what we know we do not know, what we can discover, is precisely the relationship between the various worlds that revolved around design icons.
Designers and entrepreneurs, in the postwar period, had managed to imagine an everyday life that did not yet exist, a world generated not only by experimentation but also by continuous observation of human behavior. The great quality of Italian design at that time was precisely its revolving around human beings, their habits and inclinations; new objects were born from it, contributing to the creation of a new universe. The exhibition illustrates this ensemble both through the furniture icons and through the communication, events, and people who were part of it.
Thus, the exhibition has several narrative planes: on one side, the chronology of the various Triennial exhibitions, with the main themes of each edition; on the other side, for each period, side events, phenomena and people have been identified. What thread links the various narrative planes?
The chronology of the Triennial exhibitions, from 1964 to 1996, has made it possible to reconstruct the story through the major themes. Because of its characteristics, since its first edition in 1923 in Monza as the Biennale delle Arti Decorative, and since 1933 at the Palazzo dell’Arte in Milan, the Triennale has always been an exhibition where cultural debate took place and new products were presented at the same time. With the arrival of the Salone del Mobile, in 1961, the product component gradually shifted to the trade show only, so the Triennale remained the privileged place for cultural debate on design.
However, as this exhibition shows, communication played a far from secondary role in the development of the debate, thanks to its promptness in perceiving changes in society. For this reason, ‘La tradizione del nuovo’ devotes space to magazines that hosted and disseminated topical issues; a photo report by Miro Zagnoli in Modo, for example, anticipated the function that the screen would play in the years to come. Magazines, print media in general, with house organs, fanzines, were centers of research and debate on design culture.
Read about the 22nd Triennale, Broken Nature, curated by Paola Antonelli
Events, communication and products to communicate changes in society
Products, events, and cultural research were closely connected. The story of Flou’s Nathalie bed is quite emblematic of this interconnection: the project, in fact, was born from a reflection – more cultural than industrial – on the need for a textile bed within Centrokappa, a place of research par excellence. In parallel, events also belong to the history of design and have sometimes influenced its evolution.
The Design Forum in Linz in 1980 is another defining moment in the history of design: it was there that the movement that, a few months later, led to the first Memphis collection began. And continuing on, the first Fiorucci store in Milan, designed by Amalia Del Ponte in 1967, was so significant that I like to think it was an anticipation of the 1980s. Ultimately, I believe that events and journalism help tell the story of the Italian design as a discipline: the technical drawing and the prototype speak to some categories, but people and events can complete the story and speak to all.
How does technology enter into the narrative of the exhibition?
Technology offers some tools that can help visitors learn more about the topic; for example, there are QR codes connecting to digital content and several podcasts in addition to the explanations of cultural workers available to the audience for any question they may have. Instead of adding the virtual section, in this exhibition I decided to set up an ‘immaterial’ section to introduce the fact that Italian design, in the early 1990s, was beginning to dematerialize, moving from pure product design to communication, to service, and that it was beginning to face digital challenges. So, in the ‘Sinestesie e Musica’ section I focused on musical language as a non-tangible but rich and accessible experience, exploring the relationship between designers and musicians.
What is the relationship between Museo del Design Italiano and ‘La tradizione del nuovo’?
The exhibition ‘La tradizione del nuovo’ represents the vision of Museo del Design Italiano of the 23rd Triennale and is the Italian Pavilion of the Triennale. Although it is closely related to Triennale 2022, the exhibition is a project by Museo del Design, and this is a relevant fact as 70% of the objects on display come from the archives of the Triennale, and for me this is important. In fact, a very significant part of my work as director of Museo del Design Italiano is to expand the Triennale’s permanent collection.
Two projects went in this direction: the Casa Albonico exhibition, with furnishings by Carlo Mollino, which was held at the end of 2021, and the acquisition and reconstruction of Casa Lana, an interior architecture and design project by Ettore Sottsass. I started working on this expansion in 2020, during the pandemic, and, despite the forced pauses, we have already seen interesting results. In April 2023, for Milan Design Week, we will present a new permanent installation. [Txt Roberta Mutti, photo courtesy of Triennale]
Scopri Casa Lana, a project by Ettore Sottsass at Triennale di Milano
La tradizione del nuovo – Padiglione Italia
Curated by Marco Sammicheli
Exhibition Design: Zaven
23rd International Exhibition
Triennale di Milano
Extended to January 8, 2023