Gae Aulenti (1927-2012) was an Italian architect and a prolific designer of furniture, lighting and theatre sets. Aulenti was one of the few women working in architecture and design in postwar Italy and her talents found a vast range of outlets, from showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti to sets for La Scala, the opera house in Milan, to private villas for the rich. But it is for her work in museums and exhibition design that she was best known - and for her largest project, which also proved to be her most divisive.
She was chosen in 1981 to convert the Beaux Arts-style Gare d'Orsay railway station in Paris into a new home for impressionist art. Her proposal transformed the cavernous central hall, a magnificent barrel-vaulted train shed lit by arching roof lights, into an open exhibition space, with the insertion of modern industrial materials. Original cast-iron beams and plaster rosettes were contrasted with wire mesh partitions and new rough stone walls, on which the collection, of mainly French art from 1848 to 1915, was daringly hung.
Her defiant disposition was evident from the beginning. Born in the town of Palazzolo dello Stella, near Trieste, Gaetana Aulenti decided to study architecture as a form of rebellion against her parents' desires for her to become "a nice society girl".
On graduating from Milan Polytechnic in 1954 (as one of only two women in a class of 20), she joined Casabella magazine and quickly became part of the "Neo Liberty" movement. Reacting against the dominance of modernism and the monotonous legacy of the Bauhaus, it argued for a revival of local building traditions and individual expression - something that Aulenti pursued in all aspects of her life, as a fierce opponent of fashion.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, Aulenti produced furniture for Milan's major design houses.
In the early 80s she was the artistic director at FontanaArte, creating timeless lamps and furnishing elements for the company that are still in the catalogue.
One of her most famous pieces, a coffee table in the form of a thick square of glass supported on four black casters, is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The houses she went on to design in the 70s and 80s shared a similarly postmodern sensibility. With echoes of buttresses and primal pitched-roof forms, they reveal a taste for references to pre-classical architecture and a sense of elementary construction. In many ways they are a strong reflection of her character, described by the Italian writer Alberto Arbasino as "a cross between bucolic charm and the solid mentality of an engineer".
Such a combination was perhaps a necessary weapon in such a male-dominated profession. Aulenti said she managed to get her way with tough construction crews by making them think of her as their mother "whom they must please", and she had an equally commanding approach to working with existing buildings by revered architects.
Aulenti enjoyed what she called the "double ambiguity" of working in existing contexts, juxtaposing elements of the past with the present. As well as the Musée d'Orsay and the Palazzo Grassi, she designed the permanent collection galleries of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Palacio Nacional in Barcelona and, most recently, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
"There are plenty of other talented female architects, but most of them seem to link up with men," said Aulenti, who divorced twice. "I've always worked for myself, and it's been quite an education. Women in architecture must not think of themselves as a minority, because the minute you do, you become paralysed. It is most important to never create the problem."
During her lifetime she received many prizes and awards, including: "Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur" (Paris), Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects; Praemium Imperiale for Architecture (Tokyo), "Knight Grand Cross" of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Rome), honorary degree in the Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, USA).
Source: The Guardian
More than 90 years ago, in 1921, Paolo Venini, a Milanese lawyer, and Giacomo Cappellin, a Venetian antique dealer, founded Cappellin Venini & C.
The painter Vittorio Zecchin was then artistic director and laid the basis on which the company is still founded today: reinterpretation of traditional schemes, openness towards new artistic trends and high manufacturing skills. He was able to reach all of this thanks to the glass masters of Murano island.
Unfortunately, after a few years the company was split in two. The company Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & C. was therefore founded, with Napoleone Martinuzzi as artistic director. He was one of the most important and influential people in the whole artistic world of glass.
During the first years Martinuzzi followed his predecessor’s guidelines, and this is why their works are hard to tell apart. The first signs of a change could be seen during the exhibition in Monza in 1927 where Venini exhibited pieces with different decorative elements such as coloured glass filaments. The following year Martinuzzi brought innovation into the glass world with the "pulegoso" glass. It is characterised by thousands of air bubbles which make it look opaque.
He was able to create majestic works thanks to his passion and talent for sculpture. Among these we find the great fountain for the Quadriennale in Rome and Josephine Baker’s famous statue.
Paolo Venini started to play an important role, as he had learnt a lot about glass. Still, he preferred to somebody else to be Artistic Director, such as Tommaso Buzzi, Napoleone Martinuzzi's successor. Meanwhile, some of the most important artists started to work with Venini. Among them were Carlo Scarpa and Gio Ponti.
In 1940 Carlo Scarpa and Paolo Venini presented some new techniques, such as Battuti, Tessuti, Granulari and Murrine. At the Biennale in Venice and the Triennale in Milan.
During World War II the company did not lose its grip. Indeed, during the Biennale in 1942, Venini had the only exhibition which contained innovative shapes and colours.
Immediately after World War II the situation was very complicated and all the companies in Murano didn’t know whether to produce new designs or concentrate the production on classical shapes.
Venini’s answer to the market came in 1948 during the Venice Biennale, where the firm launched some new works by a young artist from Padua: Fulvio Bianconi.
The set piece of his collection were the twelve characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. Three years later Venini launched, still with Bianconi, some new collections employing the "pezzati", "fasce" and "inclusion", something really particular which will leave an important mark in Venini’s history and in the island of Murano.
From that moment on, a lot of famous architects, designers and artists wanted to work with Venini: Eugene Barman, Ken Scott, Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressuti and Rogers.
Paolo Venini died on July 22nd, 1959 in Venice. His son-in-law, Ludovico Diaz De Santillan, who was working with him since a few years, became the new CEO of the company. During those years Venini collaborated with Tobia Scarpa (son of Carlo), Toni Zuccheri and Tapio Wirkkala.
In 1972 a fire broke out in the factory and many samples and prototypes, including original drawings, were destroyed. Only a few of them were saved.
In the following years Laura, Ludovico’s daughter, managed the company. During the 80’s Venini started to work with very famous artists and designers such as Owe Thorssen, Brigitta Karlsson and Tina Aufiero. In the mid 80’s Gardini and Ferruzzi bought out Venini, and they started to work with Alessandro Mendini, one of the most important architects worldwide. In the 90’s Ettore Sottssass began to collaborate with Venini as well.
Moreover, Venini worked with Gae Aulenti, Mario Bellini, Timo Sarpaneva and Fulvio Bianconi together with some rising artists such as Elena Cutolo, Giorgio Vigna, Emmanuel Babled, Rodolfo Dordoni, Monica Guggisberg and Philip Baldwin.
At the end of 2001 the group Italian Luxury Industries, ran by the Italian entrepreneurs Gabriella and Giancarlo Chimento and Giuliano and Guglielmo Tabacchi, bought out Venini, focusing on luxury and design in order to maintain the aim of Paolo Venini, started in 1921.
The company still attends the most important design events all around the world launching new collections and limited editions designed by Giorgio Vigna, Alessandro Mendini, Sandro Chia and Mimmo Rotella. In the following years the number of important collaborations increases including the one with Fernando and Humberto Campana, who, in 2005, designed a big installation of glass bells for Moss Gallery in New York. During the most recent years the company maintained its most important feature: cooperate with worldwide renowned designers, architects and artists such as Tadao Ando, Fabio Novembre, Luca Nichetto, Gaetano Pesce, Matteo Thun, Atelier OI, Studio Job, Emmanuel Babled, Harri Koskinen, Diego Chilò, Ronan and Erwan Bourroulec and Leonardo Ranucci.
In 2011 Venini celebrated its 90th anniversary with a travelling exhibition that involved the most important organization in the world such as the Glass Museum of Murano, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice, the Shanghai Museum of Glass and the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan.
Since 2012 the firm works with Fondazione Cini and Pentagram Stiftung on a ten-year project of single-author exhibitions on artists that worked for VENINI. All these works, including works, original drawings and images belonging to the company’s archives. The first exhibition, dedicated to Carlo Scarpa, called "CarloScarpa". Venini 1932-1947) was very successful in terms of public and critics and, in fall 2013, will be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with the title "Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company 1932-1947"
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