By exhibiting a series of classic Italian cars, showing videos of Formula 1 racing, dedicating a room to the sounds of engines and another to miniatures of vintage cars, the exhibition Beauty in Motion – Icons of Italian Design may seem like an exhibition aimed at the specific niche of the so-called “car lovers”. With a closer look, however, it soon becomes apparent that she goes far beyond that.
In a vast space at Casa Fiat de Cultura, in Belo Horizonte, the exhibition is dedicated to entering the universe of Italian design from prestigious car models, but also from a series of works of art, furniture, objects and household items, in addition to of multimedia installations, videos and a detailed timeline. Through this wide range of languages and supports, the show broadly approaches the design of the European country, highlighting the cultural and socioeconomic contexts that made its development possible throughout the 20th century.
“We can consider these objects in general, including automobiles, as part of a great philosophy that arises to deal with industrial production, mainly, and that manifests itself in Italian design with a lyrical inspiration that makes it unique”, explains the architect and historian. Italian Maddalena D'Alfonso, Peter Fassbender's collaborator in the curatorship of the show. “This means connecting new technologies to a way of facing the future, with innovative ways, not simply for the materials and techniques used, but for the desire to transfer artistic wisdom into the products”, she adds.
The specificity of Italian design – related to its dialogue with fantasy and utopia, sensuality and irony, futurism and surrealism – is explicit in pieces such as Radiofonografo RR126 (1965), a modular radio set designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni; the Valentine portable typewriter (1968), designed by Ettore Sottsass; the UP5 armchair, by Gaetano Pesce; Campeggio's Cutlery (1970), by Roberto Sambonet; the kettles from the Alessi Collection (1985); and many others.
The vehicles shown are productions by five of Italy's leading car design firms in the 20th century (the bodies), whose stories are told in the exhibition. They are Bertone (1912), Zagato (1919), Touring Superleggera (1926), Pininfarina (1930) and GFG Style (1960), represented by classic models such as Lamborghini 400 GT, Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale, DeLorean DMC-12 – immortalized in the trilogy Back to the future –, Ferrari Testarossa and Maserati Ghibili.
“These are cars and objects that have a sense of humor, that surprise in very emotional ways, much more than in other countries”, explains Fassbender. “Anything can be functional, but on this side of charm, on how much emotion you can put emotion into an object, in this Italian design stands out like no other”, he adds, giving as an example the Bocca sofa (1970), a piece by Studio 65 inspired by the lips of Marylin Monroe.
The objects on display throughout the show, according to D'Alfonso, also show the desire to transform the ordinary into something fantastic. “Everyday life is heavy, tiring, repetitive. At the same time, the pleasure of small things is unique, it is the poetry of life, something that remains. Be it drinking a coffee, having a glass of water, cooking, sitting in a cozy chair. So Italian design intends to build a narrative about this small part of life, letting it become the protagonist, so that the poetry of minimal acts can manifest itself”, he says. “And this can be done by constructing a particularity, a surprise, an expectation in the object. This dramaturgy of the object is fundamental to understand what Italian design symbolizes.”
futurism and cinema
In a room right at the beginning of the show – preceded only by an installation with a didactic video on the history of design in Europe –, futuristic paintings and sculptures contextualize what will come next, presenting fundamental artistic assumptions for Italian design. Works by Umberto Boccioni on loan from MAC-SP – such as the famous sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) – share space with works by other artists such as Pietro Consagra, Giulio Turcato and Emilio Vedova.
“The link with futurism is part of this philosophy of looking forward, this impulsive, bold, muscular spirit, with the will to move forward without looking in the rearview mirror. It's a force that interprets technology, that takes those technological opportunities and builds something new. The desire to build a living future, where we can be new people, reimagine ourselves”, explains D'Alfonso.
In this sense, the cars on display are associated with this modern thought, in which the automobile emerged as a possibility of transformation and improvement of life, especially after the destruction and trauma caused by the Second World War. This is made explicit in the immersive room that features excerpts from Italian neorealist films by Vittorio de Sica, Federico Fellini, Dino Risi and Michelangelo Antonioni.
“Perhaps the place where the importance of the car as a cultural product, and not just an industrial or economic product, is most understandable is the cinema. The car there is the symbol of freedom, part of a modern society. In neorealism, which shows a post-war Italy, poor, wanting to transform itself, the car appears as something that gives hope”, says the curator. “And that is what we want to convey in the exhibition, that the automobile is not just an object, without a soul, but an object that carries a great load of utopia.”
Just as the car is treated as a cultural product linked to the social context, car design appears as an artistic product. “I always try to explain that the person who designs the cars is not the engineer, but the artist,” explains Fassbender, who is director of the LATAM Design Center at Fiat Chrysler Automóveis. “Our background is artistic, and in the exhibition we tried to show that. Behind each car there is always creation, drawing and pencil”, concludes the curator.
Beauty in Motion – Icons of Italian Design
Fiat House of Culture – Praça da Liberdade, 10, Belo Horizonte
until November 3
* the journalist traveled at the invitation of Casa Fiat de Cultura