The first US museum exhibition devoted to the work of Italian architect and lighting designer Achille Castiglioni (b. 1918) continues its run at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City through January 6. Achille Castiglioni: Design! features works from all periods of the renowned designer's fruitful career, with examples ranging from his often whimsical lighting and furniture designs--which make up the bulk of his oeuvre--to his meticulous interiors.
Organized by Paola Antonelli, associate curator in MOMA's department of architecture and design, the exhibition comprises about 200 objects, including bookshelves, ashtrays, glassware, cameras, electrical switches, desk lamps, and vacuum cleaners. Three reconstructed interiors, designed by the master of contemporary design over a span of 27 years, demonstrate a sense of irony through innovative combinations of domestic objects. Also showcased are Castiglioni's full-scale drawings of furniture, fittings, and objects from 1946 to the present.
The exhibition is centered around three reconstructed rooms the designer created for exhibitions in 1957, 1965, and 1984. The first, entitled Colors and Forms in Today's Home, was originally on view in Como, Italy, and includes an intriguing, bohemian mix of Castiglioni's furniture and lighting designs combined with found objects (such as a sink or toy gun) in expressive ways.
The second interior, part of a 1965 exhibition The Inhabited Home, held in Florence, is a more traditional dining room that includes Castiglioni-designed cutlery, his Tric chairs, and the Ventosa lamp, an adjustable spotlight made up of a small reflector held in place by a suction cup. In this setting the lamp, which can adhere to any surface, is attached to a whiskey bottle. "Castiglioni throws things together without inhibition," comments Antonelli.
The third interior, part of Italian Furnishings, a Tokyo promotional exhibition in 1984, displays the designer's attempt to integrate Eastern and Western design. Castiglioni interprets a traditional Japanese method of dining by means of a convivial arrangement in which every guest has his own Cumano table--a small, round-topped iron table that can be folded and hung on a wall--all placed in an oval configuration. A fine-stemmed lamp passes through a hole in each table, illuminating every Cumano individually while adding a sense of unity.
Castiglioni's freedom as a designer and his ability to redesign familiar objects is perhaps best illustrated by the show's display of the famous 1962 Arco floor lamp, which was inspired by an Italian street lamp. The architect's version, named for its graceful arc, has a light source that is almost 7' (2.3m) from its 110lb (50kg) marble base, suspended by a three-part, telescoping steel arm. The classic Arco--an icon of sectional-seating living rooms throughout the 1960s and 70s--has the effect of an overhead luminaire without the need for drilling a hole in the ceiling; it illuminates the center of a dining room or coffee table without impeding traffic flow. To allow the fixture's portability, a pole or broom handle for lifting can be inserted into the hole in the heavy base. Widely imitated, the Arco suggests a new use of domestic space, and underscores Castiglioni's unerring combination of wit, sensuality, and clear understanding of both the aesthetics and usage of products for the home and office.
Also featured in the exhibition is the 1962 Flos fixture Toio, an assemblage of existing parts: a car headlight, electrical wire, metal shaft, and fishing line guides. The resulting adjustable-height floor lamp provides indirect uplight, reduced to its bare bones, in a design that remains fresh 25 years after its debut. A newer design, introduced at the 1996 Milan Furniture Fair and set to be available from Flos for the first time in the US this winter, is the Fucsia hanging lamp. Mimicking the cascading effect of the fuchsia flower, the luminaire features a sleek, clear-glass cone with an etched rim, hanging singly, or grouped together as a modern interpretation of a chandelier.
MOMA has mounted the exhibition in collaboration with Cosmit, the organizing committee of the Italian Furniture Exhibition in Milan. The exhibition was sponsored by a grant from Maureen and Marshall S. Cogan, with additional support from Agnes Bourne, Alessi, Abitare, Campessi, M2L, and Flos. The exhibition's education programs and brochure were funded by a grant from the Furniture and Lighting Division of the Italian Trade Commission.