Bruno Munari's Biography

Painter, sculptor, graphic and industrial designer, artist in the broadest sense, Bruno Munari was one of the most independent and influential figures in the history of Italian and international art, design and graphics of the 20th century, making fundamental contributions in various fields of visual expression (painting, sculpture, cinematography, industrial design, graphics) and non-visual (writing, poetry, teaching) with a multifaceted research on the theme of movement, light and the development of creativity and imagination in childhood through game. Bruno Munari is one of the most important figures of the Italian twentieth century.

Born in Milan in 1907, he grew up in Polesine (southern Veneto) where his parents run a hotel. These early years in a country setting formed many of the aesthetics and questions that were later fundamental to Munari’s work. In 1926 he moved back to Milan, where very soon he joined the group of artists of the second Futurism, with Severini, Marinetti, Prampolini and Aligi Sassu, helping to found the Lombardo Radiofuturista Group in 1929, and exploring aeropainting.

Together with the spatial Lucio Fontana, Bruno Munari “the most perfect” dominates the Milanese scene of the fifties- sixties; these were the years of the economic boom in which the figure of the visual operator artist was born who became a business consultant and actively contributed to the Italian industrial rebirth of the post-war period. Since 1929 he has worked as an advertising graphic designer, and in 1930 he founded the graphic studio R + M with Riccardo Castagnedi.

There was not a moment, in my childhood and in my life, when I realized that my path would have been that of the artist. There has always been a kind of ‘cross-fading’ between normal village life and my activity that today would be defined as ‘creative’, caused by curiosity and the desire to do something different than usual. “

Very soon he detaches himself from Futurism with a sense of levity and humour, inventing the Aerial Machine (1930), the first piece of furniture in the history of art, and the Useless Machines (1933), these are the first and most complete expression of Munari’s poetics. aerial compositions of light elements with different degrees of kineticism, where all the elements are in harmonic relationship to each other, for sizes, shapes, weights, that bring the machine closer to the non-useful and art to the useful.

There must be no art detached from life, beautiful things to look at and ugly things to use.”

Just as quickly, however, Munari forces the conceptual and technical limits of painting and sculpture: his work becomes more and more autonomous, becoming a work on the object and on the mechanism as subjects, whose behaviour to study, who embody and activate human actions. With the addition of the space factor in the reasoning, this approach will be able to express itself to the maximum of transversality in quite different fields and through the most diversified media.

During a trip to Paris in 1933, he met Louis Aragon and André Breton.

Starting from these first expressions, Bruno Munari makes his position and his field of action more and more autonomous (Manifesto della Aeroplastica futurista, 1934): in 1942, publishing Le machines di Munari at Einaudi, he becomes collaborator of the Turin publishing house on graphics, a relationship that will continue for over 40 years. Munari will be the graphic designer of many magazines: in 1939 Mondadori hires him as artistic director of Grazia and Il Tempo, and from 1950 he will be graphic designer for the new-born Epoca; between 1943 and 1944 he is the creative director of Domus, in difficult years in which he will nevertheless be able to promote a discourse of reconstruction and innovations in visual communication through his anti-rigorist and eclectic graphics.

After the war, Munari’s transition to forms of artistic experimentation increasingly linked to the worlds of material and machine is added to the abandonment of the futurist fronts for graphics: in 1948 he was one of the founders of M.A.C. (Movimento Arte Concreta), together with Gillo Dorfles, Gianni Monnet and Atanasio Soldati. This movement acts as a coalizer of the Italian abstractionist instances, proposing a synthesis of the arts, able to combine traditional painting with new communication tools and able to demonstrate to industrialists and artists the possibility of a convergence between art and technique.

In 1947 he created Concave-convex, one of the first installations in the history of art, almost contemporary, although preceding, the black environment that Lucio Fontana presented in 1949 at the Galleria Naviglio in Milan. It is the clear sign that the problem of an art that becomes an environment and in which the user is solicited, not only mentally, but in a multi-sensorial way, is now ripe.

He gradually explores the field of kinetic art, the coexistence of organic and mechanical motions typical of the works of Alexander Calder and of many members of the Zero group. His visual research leads him to create negative-positives, abstract paintings with which the author leaves the viewer free to choose the foreground form from the background one. In 1951 he presented the arrhythmic machines in which the repetitive movement of the machine is broken by chance through humorous interventions. Also from the fifties are the illegible books in which the story is purely visual and begins visual experiments, working on direct projections with polarized light to create experimental films, realizes the painting projected through abstract compositions enclosed between the slides and breaks up the light through the use of the Polaroid filter, he created polarized painting in 1952, which he presented at MoMA in 1954 with the Munari’s Slides exhibition. In 1953 he presented the research the sea as a craftsman by recovering objects worked from the sea, while in 1955 he created the imaginary museum of the Aeolian Islands where the theoretical reconstructions of imaginary objects are born, abstract compositions at the limit between anthropology, humour and fantasy. In 1958, modelling the prongs of the forks, he created a language of signs using talking forks and presented the travel sculptures which are a revolutionary reinterpretation of the concept of sculpture, no longer monumental but for travel, available to the new nomads of today’s globalized world. In 1959 he created the fossils of 2000 which, with a humorous vein, make us reflect on the obsolescence of modern technology.

He is considered one of the protagonists of programmed and kinetic art, but he escapes for the multiplicity of his activities and for his great and intense creativity to every definition, to every cataloguing, with a very refined art.

His research is therefore still articulated, he focuses on the machine and on good design (he is a fixed signature for many industrial design producers, such as the Danish company with which he has collaborated since the 40s, creating icons such as the Cubo ashtray of 1957 or the lamp Falkland of 1964) and many principles are fixed. The discourse of the exploration of form is always present, expressed in the more or less rigorous graphics but always marked by an effective and direct communication, or in plastic works such as the foldable cardboard Travel Sculptures (since 1958). Always in a very often imaginative creative key, even more often ironic, it is nature, a legacy of his early years in the Polesine countryside, that is present in his figurative works, in the products he designed (toys such as the Zizì Monkey for Pigomma, 1952) and in his illustrations, often real catalogues of fantastic animals (Zoo, 1963); the expression of his imaginative world will take the form of children’s book illustrations several times (Little Green Riding Hood and Little Yellow Riding Hood, 1972; Il furbo colibrì, 1977).

In 1962 he then organized the first exhibition of Programmed Art in Milan, dedicated himself to serial works with creations such as aconà biconbì, double spheres, nine spheres in column, tetracono (1961-1965) or flexy (1968) and in 1964 he also began to work to his original Xerographies, portraits deformed through displacement being reproduced with a photocopier. He dedicates himself to performances with action showing the air (Como, 1968); to cinematographic experiments with films the colours of light (music by Luciano Berio), inox, moire (music by Pietro Grossi), time in time, checkmate, on the escalators (1963-64). In fact, together with Marcello Piccardo and his five children in Cardina, on the hill of Monteolimpino in Como, between 1962 and 1972 he made avant-garde cinematographic films. The “Cineteca di Monteolimpino – International Centre of Research Film” was born from this experience.

In the Sixties, trips to Japan become more and more frequent, towards whose culture Munari feels a growing affinity, finding precise confirmation of his interest in the Zen spirit, asymmetry, design and packaging in the Japanese tradition. In Tokyo in 1965 he designed a fountain with 5 drops that fall randomly in predetermined points, generating an intersection of waves, whose sounds, collected by microphones placed underwater, are reproduced amplified in the square that houses the installation.

Space then remains the central element of Bruno Munari’s work, increasingly understood as the material within which human life is articulated: it is a long-lasting discourse, which starts from Useless Machines and passes through the ironic Search for comfort. in an uncomfortable armchair (Domus 202, October 1944) arriving then in 1971 at the conception of the Abitacle (for Robots), a spatial unit described only by a light metal structure of the size of a single bed, able to accommodate or support all the fundamental practices of living. The project will be awarded to Bruno Munari the

Compasso d’Oro in 1979, an award in addition to those of 1952, ’54 and ’56 and the President of the Republic’s gold medal for Design in 1963.

A great communicator and teacher, Munari holds courses in various schools including the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts of Harvard University (1967) and the ISIA of Faenza, of which he became didactic consultant in 1980. Before and after his death (which took place in Milan in 1998), there are numerous exhibitions dedicated to him all over the world, which he organizes or to which he participates, from the Venice Biennale starting since the 1930s – up to that of 1985 which dedicates a personal room to him – to the great Milanese anthology exhibition in 1986 that from the first location of Palazzo Reale will later tour the planet for a long time.

“Everyone is capable of complicating. Few are able to simplify. “