A great reader and designer since his childhood, Piero Fornasetti defines himself as a self-educated person, one who wanted no guide but his own choice in life. Against his father’s will, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in 1930, but he was expelled two years later due to his rebellious behaviour. Hence, he began studying drawing and lithography on books only, self-taught. The printing press that was available in his father’s workshop allowed him to practice and experiment with all etching and printing techniques. He creates the Stamperia d’Arte Piero Fornasetti and published his drawings, his almanacs, but also the works of the greatest artists of his time: Carlo Carrà, Giorgio de Chirico, Marino Marini, Lucio Fontana. His virtuosity allowed him to work on all kinds of supports: paper, ceramic, glass, leather, textiles. It was in 1933, then, when he took part in Milan’s Triennale with his scarves, that Gio Ponti discovered his talent. Their cooperation actually began in 1940, when they worked on a range of lamps. Together they worked on the craziest projects: the covers of the magazines Domus and Stile, furniture like the Archittetura Cabinet in 1951, and many interior decoration projects: the frescoes of the Bo Palace in Padua (1942), the canteen of the barracks of Piazza Sant’ Ambrogio, the Sanremo Casino, Casa Lucano (1951), and again the cabins and halls of the ocean liner Andrea Doria (1952).
An extremely prolific artist, Piero Fornasetti, in his fascination for the object as a multiple and for «printed materials in all their forms» (Patrick Mauriès), also created posters, advertising products, logos and fashion accessories he generally conceived as serial objects. The most famous work is the plates with variations of the opera singer Lina Cavalieri’s round face, of which no less than three hundred and fifty versions exist.
In 1970, Piero Fornasetti founded the “Bibliofili” Gallery, where the works of contemporary artists were displayed beside his own productions. Strengthened by this experience, he opened several shops in Milan and in Turin, he displayed his entire production.
He was also a film director and a stage designer: in 1970, he responded to François Mathey’s invitation, who was then the director of the Museum of Decorative Arts and played the role of general commissioner of the exhibition “Bolide design”, for which he even designed the model.
Piero Fornasetti responded to the simple and refined shapes of the modernism of the era, with a sort of indifference for the current dogmas of design by playing with a rich imagination on a note of humour, with dreams and illusions. Whether they are serially produced or revealed in his decorations, Fornasetti’s objects span an entire world of references and styles: Roman antiquity, the Italian Renaissance, Palladio’s architectures... In the 90’s, Piero Fornasetti became a source of inspiration for many designers, and Philippe Starck was among them. The first monographic volume, consecrating the author Patrick Mauriès, and the involvement of his son Barnaba, who continued the work of such a dynamic and creative father, contributed to the rediscovery of a body of work, the significance of which is today clear to all of us.
The exhibition presents the great themes of the designer’s work: his beginnings as a painter (not very well known) allow us to go back to the Italian and European artistic context of the 30’s, those of the Twentieth Century and the “Return to order”, his activity as a printer that underlie all his work, the Tema e Variazioni series and his cooperation with Gio Ponti. Sets of his trays, umbrella stands, trumeau... will be displayed in abundance. Certain decorations would be evoked with and always in perspective with the design and painting, centre-pieces of his universe.
This exhibition, presented in 2013 at Triennale Design Museum in Milan, is the first retrospective ever devoted to Fornasetti in France. By presenting the whole spectrum of his rich, peculiar and atypical personality, the exhibition finds its place at the core of a critical and theoretical discussion on ornament as a structural element of design.