Gio Ponti: a Modern-Day da Vinci Celebrated in Paris Retrospective

Gio Ponti: a Modern-Day da Vinci Celebrated in Paris Retrospective

Tutto Ponti: Gio-Ponti Archi-Designer at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Extended through May 5, 2019

Gio Ponti

Architect, designer, writer, artist, publisher, Gio Ponti (1891-1979) was the embodiment of a multi-talented multi-hyphenate. Considered one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th century, his work is admired and collected by design enthusiasts, yet little known in France. But that should change thanks to a major retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs which introduces his genius to a whole new generation.

INSPIRELLE was fortunate enough to be guided through this beautifully laid-out multidisciplinary exhibit by Sophie Bouilhet-Dumas, co-curator and great-grandniece of the artist.

“The expression “from the spoon to the city”, was coined by the Italian architect Ernesto Nathan Rogers to perfectly describe Gio Ponti, whose projects could range from the infinitely small to the infinitely large,” said Bouilhet-Dumas.

Tutto Ponti: Gio-Ponti, Archi-Designer covers the Italian artist’s long career, from 1921 to 1978. As we explored his creative world—from ceramics and silverware to lighting, opera costumes, furniture, private, public and religious buildings, and even ocean liners—we quickly discovered why he is known as the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th Century.

Gio Ponti retrospective
Gio Ponti and wife Guilia Ponti in their home, Via Dezza, 1957. Courtesy Gio Ponti Archives

Decorative Arts and Innovation

Organized chronologically, Tutto Ponti presents the creator’s life and work through a collection of objets d’art, drawings, photos, furniture, magazine covers, personal items, and films – over 400 pieces in all, many of which have never before been seen outside of Italy. The first part of the exhibition concentrates on the early part of Ponti’s career as a housewares designer at the Richard Ginori porcelain manufactory. As artistic director, he introduced new forms, colors, patterns, techniques, and production methods, earning a Grand Prix at the 1925 Universal Exposition in Paris.

Gio Ponti designs
Clockwise from top left: La Conversazione Classica in porcelain for Richard Ginori, 1924; La Cornuto expresso machina for La Pavoni, 1948; Aero teapot for Christofle, 1957; Tableware for Franco Possi, 1967 © Gio Ponti Archives

The French Connection

The Universal Expo is also where he met and sympathized with Tony Bouilhet, then head of Christofle, the French fine silver manufacturer, leading to a lifelong personal and professional collaboration. Ponti not only began designing for the company but also built Ange Volant, the Bouilhet family’s villa in the Parisian suburb of Garches. Bouilhet-Dumas recounted how her grandfather Tony met her grandmother Carla Borletti (Ponti’s niece) at the construction site. For the rest of his life, Ponti would maintain a close connection with the Bouilhets and with France.

Superleggera Chair for Cassina and Giordano Chiesa desk 1957 & 1953 © Gio Ponti Archives

Post-War Design

Gio Ponti letter
Letter with drawings to Lisa Ponti, c. 1960, felt pen on paper. © Gio Ponti Archives.

Equally interested in industry and craftsmanship, Ponti wanted to make decorative arts accessible to the general public and was the first to put affordable furniture in Italian department stores. After World War II, he became a tireless ambassador for the “Made in Italy” style. During this time, he conceived two emblematic objects: the aerodynamic coffee machine, La Cornuta, for Pavoni, and the Superleggera (“super light”) chair for Cassina, which is still in production today. And through it all, he never lost his enthusiasm for collaboration and innovation nor his joie de vivre. His joyful nature is perfectly captured in one of our favorite parts of the exhibit — a series of colorfully illustrated poetic letters which he sent to family and friends over the years.

Domus magazine covers

Prolific Writings

Ponti was equally successful and prolific in writing and publishing. In 1928, he co-founded the highly influential design magazine Domus to spread his ideas and promote new talent. Domus introduced readers to the modernist movement and creators such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Charles Eames, among others. Still published today, it remains a reference in the fields of architecture and design. Always looking to reach a wider audience, Ponti also published thousands of articles in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Gio Ponti architecture
Clockwise from top: Taranto Cathedral, Taranto, 1964-70, Pirelli Tower, Milan, 1956-60, Villa Planchart, Caracas, 1953-57 © Gio Ponti Archives

Architecture & Interior Design

In the Main Hall, you’ll see highlights of Ponti’s major commissions, furniture, lighting, textiles, and acclaimed architectural projects like the iconic Pirelli Tower in Milan and Villa Planchart in Caracas. Ponti revolutionized post-war architecture and built more than 100 buildings around the world. He was personally involved in every aspect of these constructions — from the façades to the lighting to the furniture to the ceilings and flooring.

Wanting to ensure his creations looked beautiful from every angle, if he couldn’t find the material he wanted, he would invent it himself. Always on the cutting edge, he introduced the idea of open-floor-plan homes, collaborated on multi-functional furniture with well-known artists and even forayed into the world of luxury ocean liners.

Hôtel Parco dei Principi, Sorrente, 1960 © Hôtel Parco dei Principi Sorrento

A Human Touch

Completing the exhibition is a series of six spectacularly recreated “period rooms”—each representing a decade of Ponti’s career—where his sense of color, joyfulness, and originality come alive. Highlights include the mix-and-match series of azure ceramic tiles at the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento and the striking geometric floor and ceiling of the Villa Planchart.

Sophie Bouilhet-Dumas, great-grandniece of the artist and co-curator of the exhibit

Bouilhet-Dumas, who spent two full years preparing for this very personal retrospective, reminisced about how her great-granduncle never lost his humanist touch and joyfulness. He believed that people should be at the center of his designs, which married style with ease and functionality.

“His goal was reconfort, comfort (comforting and comfortable),” says Boulhet-Dumas, “in both senses of the word, physical and emotional.”

It is this generosity of spirit, combined with his prodigious talent and expansive career that makes Gio Ponti an archi-designer for the ages.

Tutto Ponti, Archi-Designer
Where: Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 107 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
When: through May 5, 2019



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