Multiple exhibitions and even the recent documentary "The First Monday in May" have explored the connections between art and fashion, quite often wondering if the latter can be elevated to the status of the former.
Italy tackled the theme this year via a major exhibition entitled "Tra arte e moda" (Between Art and Fashion), divided in several venues and locations, from libraries to museums and analyzing various experiences, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Futurism, from Surrealism to Radical Fashion.
The Museo del Tessuto (Textile Museum) in Prato is among the itineraries included in this programme with an exhibition entitled "Nostalgia for the Future in Post-war Artistic Fabrics".
The event is dedicated to all researchers, but also to passionate art fans in general. It looks indeed at the links developed in the 1900s between art and textile design in Italy.
While this may not be a desperately new subject since it is a recurrent theme in fabric exhibitions in institutions based all over the world, the way it is organised and the artists and techniques it analyses are particularly interesting.
The event looks indeed not just at the arty motifs and patterns on fabrics, but also at the new materials created by manufacturing companies or discovered by experimenting in ateliers, and invites visitors to step back in time to Post-war Italy.
The country was going through some major changes at the time: the local industrial and manufacturing plants were being reorganized and revamped, but major cultural, economic and social changes were on the horizon.
Artists started experimenting with new languages, breaking the boundaries between architecture, design, textiles and fashion or reuniting all these disciplines via art.
Institutions such as the Triennale di Milano encouraged and promoted the discourse via exhibitions and events that - held in 1951, 1954 and 1957 - offered to many new artists the chance to take part in competitions organised by companies operating in various production sectors.
Printed furnishing textiles was an emerging industry, and the pieces developed often featured bright and bold fabrics designed by the great artists of the time.
This trend was defined as "nostalgia for the future" since the designers involved tried to present innovative solutions anticipating the needs and expectations of the following decades.
The exhibition is conceived as a journey through several different projects with works of art juxtaposed to textile pieces.
Visitors are invited to discover in the museum spaces the products created by Manifattura Jsa, a company founded in 1949 by Luigi Grampa in the cotton district of Busto Arsizio. The company became well known for its collaborations with architect Gio Ponti.
The Manifattura Jsa even organized a design competition for the XI Triennale di Milano (1957) that made history since it ended up involving 4,078 competitors and 5,000 designs (they may be considered as record numbers in our times, imagine in those years…).
In that occasion "I cirri" by Gio Pomodoro, won First Prize while the Second Prizes were awarded to "Roma notturna" by Piero Dorazio and "Tramonto a Torcello" by Luciano Gaspari.
But the exhibition also includes two upholstery textile designs by Lucio Fontana (you will be able to admire the sketches for the designs in the exhibition) for the P40 "folding lounge chair", a project designed by architect Osvaldo Borsani for Tecno.
Further exciting textile projects were submitted to competitions as part of the IX, X and XI editions of the Triennale di Milano (1951, 1954, 1957) and the Prato exhibition features some examples (from the Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive) by famous names such as Lucio Fontana, Piero Dorazio, Fausto Melotti, Roberto Crippa, Gianni Dova and Enrico Prampolini.
By the '50s textiles by artists were not just exhibited at design events, but they were also sold as fashionable accessories in proper art galleries: the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice - opened in 1942 by Carlo Cardazzo as a new venture to promote Italian and European avant-garde art - produced (in collaboration with the Toninelli company in Milan and the Achille Pinto company in Casnate, Como) silk scarves printed with artists' designs in limited edition runs (200 to 400 pieces).
In this case the scarf represented a new way to own and wear a work of art and the gallery owner commissioned the artists to create unique works for these pieces that were a hit with keen fashion lovers and art collectors.
Visitors of the Prato exhibition will discover in this section silk scarves by Edmondo Bacci, Franco Gentilini, Roberto Crippa and Giuseppe Capogrossi juxtaposed to their paintings.
Yet there were also artists - such as the ones from the MAC group (Movimento Arte Concreta - Concrete Art Movement) - who decided to start expressing their art via tapestries.
The artists would create preparatory designs – mainly abstract works – that were then reinterpreted on the looms by the School of Tapestries in Esino Lario, a Lombardy manufacturer established in 1936 by Don Gianbattista Rocca.
The school worked with a wide range of institutions and professional artists, including the Galleria del Fiore in Milan and the Triennale di Milano.
The school had to patent new systems (that required a hemp warp and dyed silk weaving to obtain brilliant colours) to create these commissions. This was actually the most interesting aspect of this collaboration.
Examples on display include tapestries designed by various artists such as Atanasio Soldati, who adhered to abstractionism, and Alfredo Chighine who created images that included silk yarns in a wide range of colours.
The Prato experience is also presented via a local manufacturer, Guido Pugi. Established in 1907, his company manufactured textiles for upholstery and carpets, specialising in hand-crafted carpets created with designs and techniques inspired by Central Asian, European and modern traditions.
The company participated at the Seventh Triennial (1940) in the E.N.A.P.I. exhibition (Italian national handicrafts and small industries organisation) with a carpet produced from a design by Leonardo Spreafico.
A few years later the company renamed Figli di Guido Pugi, presented at another event a carpet designed by Giuseppe Capogrossi.
Figli di Guido Pugi went on to win major awards such as the prestigious Compasso d'Oro in 1956 with the carpet "Jungla", designed by Giuseppe Ajmone and showcased at the 1957 World's Fair.
The pieces on display are characterized by a wide range of colours, graphic motifs and materials, and provide great inspirations to fashion and textile designers, while offering great insights into the history of design in Italy.
The exhibition calendar also features talks with art and architecture lecturers, concerts with music from the Post-war period and guided visits. If you still habour any doubts about the art and fashion connection, well, rest assured that this exhibition will manage to dispel them.
"Nostalgia for the Future in Post-War Artist Textiles", is at the Textile Museum, Via Puccetti 3, 59100 Prato, Italy, until 19th February 2017.
Image credits for this post
Images 1 to 5 and 29, "Nostalgia for the Future in Post-war Artist Textiles", Exhibition Overview
6. Antonio Ascari, Sinfonia spaziale, 1957, Manifattura Jsa, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
7. Bruno Munari, Solfeggio con variazioni, 1955, Manifattura Jsa, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
8. Piero Dorazio, Roma notturna, 1957, Manifattura Jsa, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
9. Lucio Fontana, Graphic project for a textile design to be used with the P40 chair, 1957, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
10. Lucio Fontana, Graphic project for a textile design to be used with the P40 chair, 1957, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
11. Lucio Fontana, Galassia (Galaxy), 1955, Manifattura Jsa, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
12. Gianni Dova, Untitled, 1954, Manifattura Jsa, Busto Arsizio (Varese), Branchini-Grampa Collection
13. Edmondo Bacci, Avvenimento fondo giallo, 1961, silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Branchini-Grampa Collection
14. Giuseppe Capogrossi, Superficie tondo azzurro (Round Blue Surface), 1958, silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Cardazzo Collection
15. Giuseppe Capogrossi, Superficie (Surface), 1958, silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Cardazzo Collection
16. Giuseppe Capogrossi, Superficie 295 (Surface 295), 1958, Private collection
17. Roberto Crippa, Groviglio su fondo bianco, 1952, silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Cardazzo Collection
18. Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale rosso, 1960, silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Cardazzo Collection
19. Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale. Attese (Spatial Concept. Expectations), 1968 , Private collection
20. Franco Gentilini, Ragazza di fronte su fondo rosso, 1959, silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Cardazzo Collection
21. Franco Gentilini, Ragazza col limone (Girl with lemon), 1957 silk scarf for Edizioni del Cavallino, Venice, Cardazzo Collection
22. Fausto Melotti, Graphic project for a textile for the X Triennale di Milano, 1954, Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Foundation, Courtesy: Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive
23. Ettore Sottsass jr., Rubini e Smeraldi. Graphic project for a textile for the X Triennale di Milano, 1954, Bologna, Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Foundation, Courtesy: Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive
24. Bruno Munari, Graphic project for a textile design, 1950, Bologna, Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Foundation, Courtesy: Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive
25. Bruno Munari, Graphic project for a textile design, 1950, Bologna, Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Foundation, Courtesy: Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive
26. Piero Dorazio, Graphic project for a textile design for the X Triennale, 1954, Bologna, Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Foundation, Courtesy: Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive
27. Gio Ponti, Graphic project for a textile design for the XI Triennale, 1957, Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Foundation, Courtesy: Massimo and Sonia Cirulli Archive
28. Sergio Bersani-Giornalfoto XI Triennale di Milano. Textile section for the Art Production Exhibition layout designed by architect Edoardo Sernesi, 1957. The textiles on display were produced by Manifattura Jsa di Busto Arsizio (Varese).