The Lake Como Design Festival: design measures up to history

Palazzo Valli Bruni

Palazzo Valli Bruni

Running in the city of Como until 10 October, the event features the "History Repeating" exhibition at the Ridotto del Teatro Sociale, the "Reedition" exhibition at Palazzo Mantero, exceptionally open to the public, and "20/21", a selection of contemporary pieces for auction on Catawiki

Alvar Aalto’s sofa bed is on show at the Sala Turca at Como’s Ridotto del Teatro Sociale: the AA1, designed by Finnish master in 1932, currently in the catalogue of MisuraEmme, based in Mariano Comense (Como), is a piece that not just comes from afar, it harks back to Aalto’s meeting with Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy and Siegfried Giedion in 1929, at the second Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne, in Frankfurt, on the Existenzminimum. In 1932, Giedion invited Aalto to contribute to the design of a collection for Wohnbedarf, putting into production the convertible sofa that was exhibited in 1932 in Stuttgart, and later at the 1935 Universal Expo in Brussels.

Today, it is part of the exhibition entitled History Repeating. Come designer e aziende guardano alla storia [How Designers and Firms Look at History], curated by Marco Sammicheli, Director of the Triennale di Milano Design Museum, which is on at the Lake Como Design Festival between 6 and 10 October (tickets €15). The AA1 is one of history’s “unusual landings”, as Sammicheli likes to call them, in this case outside Aalto’s native Finland, where we are accustomed to him working, right in the vicinity of Como, where the exhibition and the entire event now in its third edition is taking place, as it transitions from a fair to a festival under the guidance of Artistic Director Lorenzo Butti.

Illustrating the exhibition, Sammicheli explains, “The fact that certain non-Italian creators, such as Alvar Aalto, ended up in the catalogues of companies from round these parts many years ago, shows Como’s propensity for welcoming others, not just tourists or communities passing through, but creators who find favourable conditions to create something special.”

Teatro Sociale

Teatro Sociale, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Architects Stefano Larotonda and Niccolò Nessi curated the layout in the theatre’s four, richly-decorated rooms, which house a selection of objects, all still being made, each characterized by a specific relationship with history, each resolving it in a different way, associated with Como and its surroundings. Sammicheli says, “Today, you may see an adjustment in the materials, a concession perhaps to contemporary comfort, citations and ideas that make us think of a journey, coming through history, being reworked and re-interpreted to give these new designs a life independent from their past.”

The exhibition features Molteni&C’s re-edition of Gio Ponti’s 1954 66 Round D.154.5 armchair, which starred at the last “supersalone”; Agapecasa’s Angelo Mangiarotti 1953 Cavalletto bench; LaCividina’s long, pink Pierre Paulin Osaka sofa from 1967; and the Triennial plaid pattern, which Lanerossi created specifically for the 1933 Triennial, and is currently part of the Memory is My Home collection.

Also on show are Andrea Branzi’s work Dieci modesti consigli per la nuova Carta di Atene, printed in Como by Edizioni Lithos on a roll of paper, a piece that seeks to come to terms with classicism; Mario Bellini’s sketches for the Villa Erba Exhibition Centre; photos of Bar San Tomaso in Como, designed in 1968 by Ico Parisi and Gabriele De Vecchi; lamps from Luceplan and Astep that tell the story of the Sarfatti family, whose fate is tragically bound up with the lake – Riccardo Sarfatti, son of Gino and founder of Luceplan, died on the lake in a 2010 accident.

Teatro Sociale

Teatro Sociale, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Last but not least, the younger generation takes a bow: Chiara Andreatti’s Nina armchair for Arflex Japan, Marco Dessì’s Thonet 520 PF chair for Thonet, and Arthur Arbesser’s garments, a tip of the hat to artists Heinz Stangl and Koloman Moser.

“History can be a weight, a pedestal, and a bargaining chip,” says Sammicheli. “I wanted to present a catalogue of possibilities, to reveal the courage it takes to face up to the threat of nostalgia: for many designers, history is something to be shaken off, especially in Italy. Modern-day editions of works by past masters is a marketing invention we first saw in the late 1980s.”

As well as the exhibition at the Ridotto del Teatro Sociale in Como, the theme of measuring up to history is explored at other Lake Como Design Festival initiatives. For the first time, Palazzo Mantero, built in 1923 as a private residence for Mantero Seta founder Riccardo Mantero, before becoming the company’s long-standing headquarters, is being opened to the public to host Reeditions, a selection of seven companies (Alias, Amini, Azucena, FontanaArte, Ginori 1735, Molteni&C, and Somma 1867) that have delved back into their archives to re-edit pieces from the past; the walls are adorned with litho prints from Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi, Enzo Cucchi, Michele De Lucchi, Ico Parisi, Alessandro Mendini, and Nathalie Du Pasquier.

Palazzo Valli Bruni

Palazzo Valli Bruni, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Alias, Palazzo Mantero

Alias, Palazzo Mantero, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Amini, Palazzo Mantero

Amini, Palazzo Mantero, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

FontanaArte, Palazzo Mantero

FontanaArte, Palazzo Mantero, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Ginori 1735, Palazzo Mantero

Ginori 1735, Palazzo Mantero, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Molteni&C, Palazzo Mantero

Molteni&C, Palazzo Mantero, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Somma 1867, Palazzo Mantero

Somma 1867, Palazzo Mantero, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Teatro Sociale

Teatro Sociale, Lake Como Design Festival 2021

Salone del mobile Salone del mobile

Palazzo Valli Bruni is also being opened to the public for the first time: 20/21 is a dialogue between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, an exhibition of a selection of objects designed by Draga&Aurel (based in Como), Duccio Maria Gambi, studiointervallo, Portego with Cara/Davide, NM3, Studio Manda, Pietro Russo et al. These objects will subsequently be auctioned on Catawiki.

Como’s deep-dive into design and architecture concludes with the Archivi series of events: projections of a selection of research films Bruno Munari and Marcello Piccardo shot for their Studio Monte Olimpino practice at the Accademia Aldo Galli (today, the IED in Milan) between 1962 and 1972, and the Preludo ed Epilogo. Un’indagine su Asnago Veder a Como e provincia exhibition at the Novocomum, designed by Giuseppe Terragni, marking the 40th anniversary of Mario Asnago’s death, in which archival research spawns new ideas for today’s contemporary world.