Gianni Arnaudo: a journey of pop thinking
Jan. 2, 2017
Gianni Arnaudo got his degree in 1971 from the Turin Polytechnic’s Faculty of Architecture - the same faculty where, during the international Utopia and/or Revolution conference in 1969, the radical Archigram group unveiled Michael Webb’s Cushicle mobile structure concept. Against this backdrop, Arnaudo began to gain professional experience at Studio 65, becoming one of their biggest contributors between 1970 and 1975.
It was here that Arnaudo devised his first radical architecture projects, which were produced in collaboration with the Gufram factory/workshop. He was able to establish himself on the international stage following exhibitions such as New Domestic Italian Landscape, curated by Emilio Ambasz for MoMA in New York, in 1972. Some of Arnaudo’s works from this period, including the Bocca, Capitello and Atticaarmchairs, where added to the permanent collections of important museums such as the Denver Museum of Modern Art, the Vitra Museum in Basel, the Musée des Art Décoratifs at the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Arnaudo's first architectural work, produced with Studio 65, was the Flash Back complex in Borgo San Dalmazzo (Cuneo). The project made the cover of the Domus magazine and reflected Arnaudo’s original style - one guided by a deep interest in research, experimentation and links with the social and local context.
Since then, Arnaudo has produced a long list of works both individually and collaboratively. These include public buildings, school complexes, shopping centres, museums, sports centres, industrial complexes, wineries and much more. Notable examples include the Lamborghini Contact Champagnerie (Monte Carlo), the Olympic offices (Atlanta), the Montreal sports centre (Canada), the Japanese consulate offices (Monte Carlo), the Terre da Vino winery in Barolo (presented at the 12th Venice Biennale as part of the Le Cattedrali del Vino [Wine Cathedrals] exhibition), the new Cuneo airport, the Cape Verde Museum of the Republic, the Castello di Montaldo Museum Design Hotel, the expansion of the industrial complex of the confectionery company Maina in Fossano and Tenute Sandra in Barolo, the first “pop” winery in the world. The winery, designed to resemble two offset wooden boxes stacked on top of each other amongst the vines, was the subject of a press conference at the Italian Pavilion at the 13th edition of the Venice Biennale. On the subject of Venice, it’s worth pointing out that Arnaudo had works featured at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th editions of the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Arnaudo has also curated a number of exhibitions of international importance, such as “Pop Design - Fuori scala, fuori luogo, fuori schema” for World Design Capital Turin. Among the fruits of Arnaudo's extensive collaborations with leading companies in the design and furniture sector were the Va Pensiero armchair, the You welcome sofa and the unique Dejeuner sur l’arbre table, which was presented at the 2005 Milan Furniture Fair and the St Etienne Design Biennale in 2006 and now resides in the Pompidou Centre’s Permanent Collection.
Arnaudo’s prolific output is summarised in the book “Opacity and Transparency” (Arca Edizioni), which brings together his work from the late 1990s and documents the many exhibitions dedicated to Arnaudo by leading cultural institutions such as the Pompidou Centre - Musée National d’art Moderne in Paris, the Powerhouse Museum of Modern Art in Sydney, the FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais cultural centre, the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Brest, the St Etienne Biennale and, last but not least, the Fonds regional d’art contemporain in Dunkirk. Arnaudo’s notable recent exhibitions include Pop Art Design, at the Vitra Museum in Basel, the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and the Barbican Centre in London.
Arnaudo has won many awards over the years, including the Dedalo Minosse International Prize for Architecture in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
The term radical architecture was coined in the early 1970s by the critic Germano Celant. It refers to a general process of conceptual reframing of architecture, which began in the late 1950s with a move towards more utopian, visionary styles. There followed a profound reimagining of the various fields of design through the adoption of a provocative, innovative pop style. This was reflected in utopian projects with a high visual impact which called into question the traditional rational, mechanical approach to form and function.
Nothing was ever the same after the pop meteor hit. In order to show those who have no first-hand experience of this cutting-edge new trend and the innovative, almost sacrilegious impact that the radical architecture and design movement had, we will draw on the words of Arnaudo himself: “There have been many attempts to define pop art and the pop movement. The common theme, as shown by one of the comments about the recent exhibition dedicated to Lichtenstein by the GAM in Turin (Roy Lichtenstein opera prima, September – January 2015), is an attempt to choose objects that the mind is familiar with and to work on other levels.”
Radical design, according to Arnaudo, has an additional meaning, which can be best summed up as “critical design”, or “the use of forms of architecture and design as a tool to make the contradictions of the low quality aspects of contemporary cultural products explore figuratively and immediately”.
These were the principles upon which Arnaudo’s creative and design style developed - a style clear from his very early works, such as the acclaimed “Multipli”, which was designed in the early to mid-1970s during his time with Studio 65. Arnaudo’s output included objects, seats and art installations produced industrially in limited editions, which quickly became iconic pieces that were collected and displayed in many museums around the world as some of the best examples of radical design. The most similar work to Multipli in terms of its graphic style and creative approach is undoubtedly the writing paper designed and created by Arnaudo for Studio 65. The paper features the four young creative founders who, channelling the spirit of the age, came up with some of the most famous pieces ever produced by Gufram, a small company from Nole Canavese which was open-minded towards new creative forms and experimentation with innovative materials. In 2006, the Big Bang – Destruction et création dans l’art du 20e siècle exhibition, organised by the Pompidou Centre in Paris, listed Gianni Arnaudo as one of the most influential art personalities of the 20th century.
“Many of my works, included those I created on my own after the break-up of the original members of Studio 65 in 1976, continued to play a key role for enthusiasts, museums and collectors as iconic expressions of the pop spirit, rallying against the myths and rituals which dominate banal architecture and design.”
In designing his works, Arnaudo’s guiding principles were desecration and irony. For this reason, you will never find anything more than a passing reference made by Arnaudo to the now common subject of experimentation with new materials and construction techniques. “In reality, the key to inspiration is the message behind a work of design or architecture and not the means or materials used to create it. I think it’s completely obvious that research is a vital factor, which can be done in collaboration with Italian industry, which dedicates a lot of resources to this.”