The hallway of the Borletti building in Milan, designed by Ponti in 1928

GRAND DESIGN: After Christian Dior in 2017, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs has chosen to celebrate the life and work of another inspirational designer, this time in the world of architecture and interior design.

Opening today and running until Feb. 10, “Tutto Ponti — Gio Ponti Archi-Designer” traces Italian architect, designer and decorator Giovanni “Gio” Ponti’s multifaceted career.

Born in 1891, Ponti, whose most famous creation is Milan’s Pirelli tower, is known for having dabbled in all sections of design, from silverware with Christofle to modernist furniture and even religious buildings.

Over his 57-year career, he designed more than 100 constructions in 13 countries — including the Borletti building as well as multiple “casa tipiche” in his native Milan — while also creating influential design magazine “Domus” in 1928.

“He was able to jump between designing a skyscraper and a teaspoon,” said Olivier Gabet, who curated the exhibition alongside Dominique Forest, Salvatore Licitra and Ponti’s great-great niece Sophie Bouilhet-Dumas.

The Arts Décoratifs had been in talks with Ponti about an exhibition more than 40 years ago, but the project came to a halt following the designer’s death in 1978.

“We chose to take up the project again as many architects and designers are currently interested in Ponti’s work,” Gabet continued, adding that Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri had already visited the exhibition. “They are fascinated with the way he flits from one field to another. They know it’s no mean feat.”

The Superleggera chair designed by Ponti for Cassina in 1957

The Superleggera chair designed by Ponti for Cassina in 1957.  Courtesy

Visitors are greeted with a gigantic reproduction of Ponti’s design for the Taranto cathedral in 1970, a white facade pierced with what looks like hand-cut diamond shapes.

The retrospective starts with Ponti’s early decorative arts phase as art director of porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginoli, and follows with a section dedicated to his revolutionary ideas in the field of industrial design. A standout piece is his state-of-the-art “La Cornuta” coffee machine created in 1948, the first to prevent the smell of burnt coffee.

Ponti is best known for his active role in promoting the postwar “Made in Italy” movement. Interior design fans will marvel at the collection of modernist furniture, including the iconic “Superleggera” chair created for Cassina as well as clever mural “dashboards” with built-in storage, lighting and even an ashtray.

“He imagined furniture that was in keeping with its time, which was characterized by the reduction of space and the need for multifunctional pieces,” said Bouilhet-Dumas. “His great motto was ‘il confort fantastico’ — designs had to be comfy, but also really stand out.”

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