NEW LAYOUT FOR EXHIBIT OF 15TH - 21ST CENTURY FURNISHINGS AND WOODEN SCULPTURE
With the exhibit "From the Sforzas to design. Six centuries in the history of furniture" which recently came to a close, the section dedicated to wooden furnishings from the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts has re-opened to the public with a completely new exhibit layout.
This exhibit's aim is to present the historical, architectural, and collection background of the pieces, as well as their original functions. The work of Mario Praz, Ferdinando Bologna, Peter Thornton, Alvar Gonzales-Palacios, and Enrico Colle has shed light on the cultural, philosophical, and aesthetic principles which have governed tastes in furnishings over the centuries. The new section draws on their guidance to take on the issue of fashion as it affects styles of living, bringing together different artistic genres; the play of contrasting styles, evocations, allusions, and references to iconographic sources allows us to tie together the thread linking the arts, eliminating aesthetic hierarchies and making the visit a total experience, in terms of both information and sensory input.
Unlike past displays, when furniture in the museum was lined up on individual pedestals and presented separately, the pieces are now clustered together in groupings that are coherent from a temporal standpoint, along with art objects created using various techniques, as well as prints, and, thanks to the collaboration of the City Art Collections, paintings from the era. The work is all arranged within architectural "stage scenes" made to resemble real environments: in some cases, original decors have been reconstructed, but more often the setting is meant to rekindle the idea of a place or the suggestion of an epoch.
Today the museum wants to reach out to a wider audience, not only one of specialists, and this is why it has prepared, with the invaluable assistance of IBM Italy, dynamic multimedia tools and a rich didactic framework to give visitors information about each display so they can better understand the features of the exhibit and the artistic evolution of the history of furniture.
The scientific museological project was directed by the author, with the assistance of Francesca Tasso, consulting support from Alessandra Mottola Molfino and Anty Pansera, specialised input from Enrico Colle, and the advice of Gillo Dorfles. The exhibition guidelines for the display were prepared by Perry King and Santiago Miranda.
The designers, who worked in close collaboration with the museum administration, perceptively saw the need to create display formats with adaptable features, though also held together by a solid, constructive throughline. The rigorous curatorial approach, updated to reflect contemporary research, is wedded to a refined sensitivity to aesthetic factors; the lighting design and careful choice of materials bring out the stylistic and formal characteristics of each piece presented in the vast collection.
The itinerary that winds through the Ducal Apartments on the upper floor of the Ducal Courtyard is laid out in chronological order, from the 15th to the 20th century, but can also be visited in the opposite direction, and is divided into large thematic sections that are generally the size of an individual room.
The walls display many 14th-16th century frescoes from deconsecrated churches and Milanese homes, removed from their original settings as whole sections or transferred to canvas, showing both religious and secular subjects. In room XVII is the Chamber of Griselda, reconstructed with fifteenth-century detached frescoes to create a scale replica of how it looked in its original location, Castello di Roccabianca, near Parma. Due to a specific curatorial choice, the frescoes, like the wooden ceilings which come from ancient houses in our city, are preserved as pre-existing autonomous museum features and do not interact with the new display. The visit starts off from an introductory area illustrating the nineteenth-century origins of the Museum of Applied Arts, and continues on a journey of the imagination through six centuries in the history of furniture, with a particular focus on Milan and Lombardy.
The primary symbolic divisions are the following: The Court and the Church, 15th-16th century (room XVII); the Chamber of Wonders, collections of art and naturalia, 17th century (room XVIII); Baroque carvings, 17th-18th century (room XIX); Collections of the Milanese nobility, 18th century (room XVI); Masters of Style, from Maggiolini to Sottsass, 18th-21st century (room XVI).
The final (or initial) part of the visit is the most significant conceptual innovation in the exhibit, which no longer stops, as it previously did, with the Neoclassical era, but continues on to briefly sketch out the evolution of 19th and 20th century and contemporary furniture.
The section devoted to the "Masters of Style" offers a close exploration of work by great figures in furniture design, from Maggiolini to Sottsass, who were crucial to the development of a highly original period style in their eras; it documents how in Italy, and especially in Milan, the familiarity with historical styles and the skills of traditional craftsmanship have been handed down in an unbroken line of succession, influencing even contemporary mass production in the country's true sector of excellence, the design industry.
This section of the Ducal Apartments is conceived with a flexible layout, given it is intended to house future "dossier exhibits" presenting themes in interior decoration of the past and present. Without intending to overlap the role played by other institutions which promote familiarity with industrial design and its many incarnations, the Museum also examines modern furniture, focusing not only on the historic figures of Gio Ponti and Carlo Mollino, but on Ettore Sottsass, the inventor of creative solutions that, despite the spread of mass production, place a high value on design and respect the decorative features of the object, while preserving its functionality.
This is, of course, a purely illustrative selection of pieces, and has no pretensions to offering a systematic overview. Indeed, we are well aware that other work could also have represented the most innovative trends in postmodern design from the past quarter century, linked to the style of the traditional decorative arts, but employing artificial materials, creating new techniques, and inventing original shapes. Nevertheless, for this occasion, the Museum has decided to draw exclusively from its own collections, supplemented by only a few pieces on loan. Future exhibits could open up further horizons for studying concepts in contemporary furniture, within the framework of a large retrospective exhibit like the current one in Castello Sforzesco.
The remodelling of the exhibit was an enormous undertaking made possible by the financial contribution of a private individual and repeat contributor to the City Collections of Applied Arts, Silvio Segre, who has the heartfelt thanks of the Museum and the cultural world of Milan.
Claudio Salsi, Director of the Museum of Applied Arts, Castello Sforzesco