A cura di Luciano Caramel, Emma Zanella

19 April 2015  -  24 January 2016

Opening: April 18th, 6.30 pm

Dialogue with twentieth-century European art. The creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of a great Italian fashion house. The extraordinary culture and brilliance of its two founders.
These are the central themes of the exhibition that the MA*GA Museum in Gallarate (VA) is dedicating to Ottavio and Rosita Missoni from 19th April to 24th January 2016, in the city they chose for their home and first knitwear atelier back in 1953.
In the year of the EXPO 2015 in Milan, the international success and recognition earned by the Missonis in the worlds of textile design and fashion are one of the most estimable examples of the “Made in Italy” concept, symbolising the value of this area and demonstrating the brand’s flair for generating languages and connections with the very finest modern and contemporary artists.
The exhibition’s distinctive layout has spaces that become environmental works of art in their own right, and is organised according to different narrative registers to outline the key characteristics of the Missonis’ brilliance: colour, material and shape. It also reveals just how very closely their creativity is linked to art, a quality that makes the brand virtually unique on the international fashion scene.
The MISSONI, L’ARTE, IL COLORE exhibition, curated by Luciano Caramel, Luca Missoni and Emma Zanella, is a joint project organised by the City of Gallarate, the MA*GA Museum and the Missoni Archive with contributions from the Lombardy Region’s Department of Culture, Identity and Self-Governance and the Province of Varese in conjunction with Missoni. Main partner: The Woolmark Company; Media partner: Rizzoli; Sponsor: Parking Go. Partners: Missoni Home; Bolon, Bonaveri; Stoll; Zegna Baruffa; Richard Ginori; Lancia and Ypsilon. Technical sponsors: IVNG; Openjobmetis; XL Group Insurance with Assigeco; Gallina; Peroni, Stone Italiana and Antique Mirrors. With the participation of Gallerie d’Italia - Piazza Scala (Milan) and Auser for MA*GA. The exhibition is also included in the EXPO 2015 Grand Tour and Officina Contemporanea [OC] programmes. With the support of EXPO, Padiglione Italia EXPO and the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Varese.

The exhibition opens with Casa di moda (Fashion House), the evocative video installation created in 2009 by Ali Kazma to highlight Missoni’s exclusive combination of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design, its respectful approach to the material and work within the company, and the artist’s desire to look behind the scenes of the glamorous fashion world and see how it fits into the broader picture of human activity.

The Roots section sheds light on the origins of Missoni’s work, their initial resources and sources of inspiration in the fields of visual arts and fashion. The background is the birth of avant-garde in Europe, from the lyrical abstract art of Sonia Delaunay, which inevitably goes together with Kandinsky, to the Futurism of Balla and Severini and, as Luciano Caramel reminds us, “the reference to Klee is particularly meaningful as it is essential for understanding Missoni’s complex culture and painting”.
Another important part of the story is the success of groups, magazines and studies in the 1930s that aimed to give a definition to painting and geometric sculpture of a constructivist and concrete nature. In this context an expressive language is established based on the rhythmic composition of shapes and colours used with purity, which were translated and reworked by the Missonis in the central motifs of their creative process.
As Emma Zanella mentions in her article in the catalogue, this section together with the early “Italian abstract artists Munari, Veronesi, Soldati, Rho, Fontana or Vedova, traces the boundaries of specific areas of exploration into the colour, shapes, lines and rhythm that defined European non-figurative art in the first half of the twentieth century and provided the cultural and design influences for the Missonis’ creative world.”
A fine example of this is Sonia Delaunay, whose works reveal definite similarities with the Missonis in terms of techniques and results, and not just because Sonia, together with her husband Robert, used her inventive genius to work with the fashion world, produce textiles and design theatre costumes, but also because the assonance of the two worlds touches the fundamental chords of their poetry in technique and results.
Another example is Spitz-Rund (Pointed-Round) by Wassily Kandinsky, a painting that features and sums up the Russian master’s experience with the Bauhaus of Weimar and Dessau, which can be seen in the highly geometric shapes and the use of colours with psychic and emotive resonance. Whereas Luigi Veronesi focuses on studying colour in movement, and he was one of the most perspicacious and experimental forerunners of abstract art on the Milan art scene from 1930s onwards. The exhibition presents two of his extraordinarily relevant abstract films, Film 4 (1940) and Film 6 (1941), in which lines and colours move in free compositions dominated by rhythm.

The exhibition continues with Colour, Material, Form, a series of immersive installations designed by Luca Missoni and Angelo Jelmini, and characterised by a deep fusion between the pursuits for material and colour that are influenced by fashion design and environmental dimensions and borrowed from the visual arts. For the Missonis, making clothes means making room for colour, material and form, which are imagined and moulded according to a strict, personal aesthetic quest. “Yarns are the medium for colour which, when knitted, gains depth and emphasis.” Luca Missoni writes in the catalogue. This is confirmed by these large spectacular installations that bring the visitor closer to the elasticity of the material and the pursuit of different shades of colour, showcasing the elegance and softness of the yarn and knitted fabric, which is the maison’s principal stylistic feature and is also documented by the more than one hundred historical garments here on display.

The dialogues between the hectic creativity of Ottavio and Rosita Missoni and Italian visual culture are incredibly intense between the 1950s and the 1980s. An extensive selection of works, some of which also come from the MA*GA collection, documents this consistent relationship: the references and persisting and varying motifs can be seen again in piece after piece. So we find canvases by Ottavio Missoni side by side with the great masters of Italian abstract art from the post Second World War period, from the creators of Forma 1, such as Dorazio and Accardi, to the MAC (the Movement of Concrete Art) of Munari and Dorfles, and even the optical and kinetic experimentations of Dadamaino and Colombo that enable us to detect how the use of symbols and colour becomes more esoteric and conceptual between the 1970s and 1980s, which gives us a completely new, independent key to interpreting the many studies and sketches drawn by Ottavio Missoni.

The final room of exhibition features a brand-new installation dedicated to Ottavio Missoni’s most significant works. These works form a series of large Tapestries made with knitted patchwork which are displayed in a space designed once again by Luca Missoni and Angelo Jelmini to be as spectacular as it is evocative. This choice of space underlines just how extremely important the tapestries were to Ottavio Missoni, who chose tapestry as his sole technique for artistic expression starting from the 1970s, because it offered a unique way to concentrate his unlimited and wide-ranging interests in material and colour in both fashion and in art. “If anyone initially ever wondered what Ottavio Missoni’s textile pieces as works of art had to do with art, […],” writes Luciano Caramel, “Their misunderstanding was soon confuted by the works themselves.”

The exhibition catalogue is edited by Luciano Caramel, Luca Missoni and Emma Zanella and published by Rizzoli, and a busy programme of events and educational initiatives is planned to complement the exhibition.