Federica Sala on Italy, Identity, and New Possibilities for Design

Milan—once home to enfant terrible Ettore Sottsass, one of the most influential Italian designers of the 20th century and one of the first designers to offer furniture in limited editions—is well known as the world’s capital of design. The city is spattered with iconic furniture companies (Danese, Kartell, Poltrona Frau), hosts Salone del Mobile, one of the design world’s most important calendar events, and is home to the prestigious Triennale Design Museum—so it makes sense that miart, the international modern and contemporary art fair, has devoted a section solely to limited edition design. In a chat with Artsy, Milanese curator and critic Frederica Sala, who curated the design section (titled “Object”), opens up about the dual identities of Italian design, the savoire faire typical of Italy, and the new “previously unthinkable” possibilities for contemporary works—including one made entirely from lava.

Artsy: What was your curatorial approach for the design section?

Federica Sala: miart is a fair representing both the modern and contemporary eras, so I have tried to balance this dual identity in the “Object” section. I have tried to create a dialogue between the past and the present; for example, the Swiss gallery Demosmobilia will juxtapose Modernist design (Gio Ponti, Osvaldo Borsani, Augustus Bozzi, Ico Parisi, Pierre Guariche, Boris Jean Lacroix, Oscar Niemeyer) with Swiss contemporary design from Veruska Gennari, Christian Deuber, and Marco Mumenthaler.  

Moreover, the Galleria Luisa Delle Piane will present both the past and the present of the gallery—the former embodied by the work of Gaetano Pesce, with some rare pieces of recent acquisition, and the latter by the work of Matali Crasset. NERO tackles the issue in an interesting manner, bringing a selection of classic pieces as well as producing contemporary ones. The most anticipated are the new plexiglass versions of Carla Venosta’s lamps from the archives, which were awarded the Compasso d’Oro in 1979 and 1981, and have never before been put into production, which the designer has decided to revisit and put the finishing touches on for miart.

Artsy: What makes Italian design unique, and to what factors do you attribute design excellence in Italy?

FS: What has made and continues to make Italy important is the combination of design, craft, and industrial capability. Having specialized sectors of ceramic, wood, glass blowers in Murano, and endless possibilities of stonework, has allowed designers and companies to experiment with materials and fabrication methods, giving rise to so many masterpieces. For example, for its Milan debut, Aria d’Italia (from the magazine of the same name by Giò Ponti) will be presenting very interesting glass and ceramic work that represents the kind of savoir faire typical of Italy, which provides a counterpoint to design innovation.

Artsy: The section presents 20th century works alongside contemporary projects. Can you describe some innovations in contemporary design?  

FS: The most interesting research work on materials at the show will be De Natura Fossilium, a project by Formafantasma for Gallery Libby Sellers, made ​​entirely with lava from Mount Etna. Beyond materials, there is also process that can open new possibilities of design in ways that would have been previously unthinkable. Just think of Frozen, the project by Jungin Lee at SWING that explores a new fabrication process, using fabric with Jesmonite that, being folded and laminated, is capable of transforming an industrial procedure into something very unconventional.

Artsy: Can you talk us through some of the limited editions that were created especially for this section?

FS: Design Gallery Milano will be showing a beautiful body of work that represents a reflection on the actions and behaviors of human beings, using furniture pieces that the artist Alberto Garutti has designed as a means of anthropological analysis of society. The artist’s pieces open new mental horizons through the use of chromatic play and deliberate gestures, and some also reflect on the issues of relationships and absence, as in the pair of consoles entitled What Happens in Rooms When People Leave? which complement each other thanks to the male and female details, and reveal their nature at night.The artist transforms the work of living into furniture, bringing a burst of poetry and beauty that, thanks to the emphasis on gesture and presence, shows the exceptional nature of everyday life and counteracts the concept of boredom.

Explore miart 2014 on Artsy.