One could be facetious and say that organising an exhibition looking at “the creative potential triggered by crises in the history of Italy” is akin to organising an exhibition presenting an unbroken chronology of Italian creative potential since time immemorial.
But that is exactly what the Triennale Design Museum Milan have undertaken for their seventh edition.
Under the title “Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy” the Triennale Design Museum have, however, chosen to focus on just three periods of Italy’s perpetual crisis: the 1930s, the 1970s and today.
Opening with a collection of objects that stand as representative for the three decades under consideration, including, for example, the 1939 Littorina autarchica wood and aluminium bicycle, a table from Enzo Mari’s 1974 Proposta per un’autoprogettazione project or the 2014 3D printed lamp “In tensione” by Alberto Meda for Belux, the exhibition then moves on to explore in more detail how Italian designers responded to the particular challenges of the autarky of the 1930s, austerity of the 1970s, and autonomy of our modern age.
As ever with Triennale Design Museum exhibitions Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy presents a veritable who’s who of Italian design: Sottsass, Mari, Ponti, Brandi, de Lucchi, Albini, Formafantasma, Martino Gamper.
This may of course be symptomatic of the inflationary nature of contemporary design, proof that today there is far too much “design”. It is however, we suspect, much more that the curators wanted to present as many examples of contemporary design as possible, and got a bit carried away. The organisers speak of presenting some 650 objects. Were the Triennale exhibition space three times as big one could have attempted to present so many objects. It isn’t. And so by the end of the exhibition one is so overloaded one almost loses the will to explore.
A situation exacerbated by an exhibition design concept that, for us, perfectly demonstrates the sort of outmoded, uninspired format that, we feel, the Vitra Design Museum are being ironic about in the Object Space section of Konstantin Grcic – Panorama.
Following on from 2013′s Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi, Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy is the second exhibition about design in context of crises to be staged at the Triennal Design Museum in the past twelve months. However whereas in Made in Slums the curators could convincingly present a design culture born of the local conditions and crises, the curators of Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy present only very little that is exclusively Italian. Very little that can be considered an Italian response to the global crises of the periods under consideration, far less a particularly Italian response to particularly Italian crises.
And indeed through the inclusion of notable non-Italians such as Ronen Kadushin or Patricia Urquiola they tacitly acknowledge this fact.
Consequently what one is left with is an extensive collection of design objects from the past 80 years.
Not what the curators were intending to present; but, as an extensive collection of design objects from the past 80 years, well worth viewing.
Italian Design Beyond the Crisis. Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy runs at the Triennale Design Museum, Viale Alemagna, 6, 20121 Milan until February 22nd 2015