Gianni Monnet (Turin 1912 – Lugano 1958), painter, graphic artist, architect and curator, in 1948 together with Gillo Dorfles, Bruno Munari and Atanasio Soldati founded the M.A.C, the Movimento Arte Concretain Milan, of which he was to become the main face, curating the whole organisational, publishing and exhibiting side.
What concerned Monnet was the principle of integration of the arts and their interdisciplinarity, extending his interests from there to industrial production, graphics, museum displays, furnishing and of course architecture. This concept was clearly bound up with the ‘Synthesis of the Arts’ as theorised by Le Corbusier. The following statements in this regard are enlightening: “I’m an architect, and yet I have never made the slightest difference between architecture, painting and sculpture, for its appears to me that there is only one issue here: that of expressing oneself through the visual presentation of spatial geometric configurations (…).” “Since the end of the nineteenth century (…), the visual arts have unconsciously tended ever more to fuse together into a single form of expression. But only with Le Corbusier and Léger did this trend become a conscious choice: with the Synthèse des Arts Plastiques,we began to understand how abstract painting and sculpture are no longer pictures and statues, in the nineteenth-century sense of the term (...), but architecture, display and industrial design.This is certainly the role of art today, and it is this goal that the truly modern artist must strive to achieve.” And Monnet concludes: “Given what I stated above, I believe I belong by all rights to the Movimento Arte Concreta.”
These words introduce us to the works of Gianni Monnet produced for the Pellicceria Livio Leviin 1957, found at number 3 Via Verri in Milan. The shop had been designed by the architect Pietro Lingeri.The famous architect’s relationship of collaboration with the Levi family was a long-standing one and rooted in earnest friendship (1932), having already created the complex at number 3 Via Dogana (1947–48), also in Milan – a major hub for the trade of furs and fur manufacturing – and for his design of the family tomb at the Monumental Cemetery (1948).
However, Monnet’s contact with Livio Levi did not take place through Architect Lingeri but through another architect friend – Tito Bassanesi Varisco.It’s quite likely that Varisco was commissioned by Lingeri to deal with the interior furnishing of the shop, and so asked Monnet to collaborate on the integration of painting on those elements that made up the furnishings.
For Via Verri, Monnet produced four paintings for four wall mirrors in brass, mirror and glass (foldable) and four paintings for the four sliding glass doors of two fitted wardrobes. In both cases, the intervention was carried out with oil paint directly onto the base material. While the pictorial motives of the wardrobes doors remind us of the work Parete animata(1949), in the mirrors, by contrast, we once more find the elements of the third M.A.C. folder (1949).
His studies into primordial forms were to be given expression in an arched element which we find once more, reiterated, in a number of paintings from the same period, coupled with circular shapes. These are structures and signs with spatial and cosmic values, reminiscent of the spheres of the planetarium, and belonging to a context – that of ’50s Milan – characterised by the environmental developments in Fontana’s work. For the four doors of the wardrobe, in light blue, black and white, the theme of celestial bodies is predominant. We sense that the four elements are like ‘inlays’ of a hypothetically larger wall.
Thanks are due to the Pietro Lingeri Archive in Milan, and to Elena Lingeri.
“In actual fact, it was a very particular moment, and even the publishing activity was sort of made up as we went along. But then it was improvised only up to a certain point, because Monnet was an architect, and what’s more one who had graduated from Turin and so with a Turinese mentality. So Monnet deserves at least three quarters of the credit for everything that went on from a publishing point of view.” Interview with Gillo Dorfles by Giorgio Maffei,M.A.C. Movimento Arte Concreta, Edizioni Sylvestre Bonnard, 2004.
In: Tristan Sauvage, Pittura italiana del dopoguerra, Schwarz Editore, Milan, 1957, pp. 331–332.Tristan Sauvage is the pseudonym of Arturo Schwarz.
Tito Bassanesi Varisco (1915–1998), architect, joined the ‘Movimento Arte Concreta’ in the 1950s, sharing that idea of the ‘synthesis of the arts’ and ‘intermediality’ which characterised it especially post-1952, and which would lead to the encounter and merging in 1954 with the French group Espace.In Documenti d’arte d’oggi, 1955/56, his Monoscopiocreation was published (a drawing with a mobile cursor made of card). It became the graphic image used as the opening and closing test card for RAI television programmes, and as such broadcast every day until 1984.
Studio Dabbeni, after the exhibitionEsperimenti di sintesi delle arti. André Bloc e Gianni Monnet in un percorso fra esponenti dell’arte concreta, Lugano 2016, presents the previously unseen works produced by Monnet for the Levi Furrier of Milan.
- four doors painted on glass (216,5 x 55 cm), produced for two fitted wardrobes;
- four mirrors, wall-mounted, with two wings (the first is painted, and on opening, three mirrors are revealed, 146 x 55,5 cm);
- a series of drawings.