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Bagatti Valsecchi 2.0

When design is removed from its usual context during the Milan Furniture fair, it gains a totally new appreciation, as seen in the exhibition at the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum. 

By Jeanne Tan /asdf 25-04-2013

The Bagatti Valsecchi museum in Milan is a pleasure at any time of the year to marvel at. During the Milan furniture fair, the magnificence of this neo-renaissance city palace increased a notch as it became a spectacular location for a contemporary design exhibition. Curated by Rossana Orlandi, the exhibition juxtaposed modern design with the traditional interiors to start a dialogue between past and future. 

Located in Milan’s fashion district, the museum was built as a residence by the brothers Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi in 1883. Designed in the Renaissance style, the house was furnished with the finest period furniture and art accumulated by these two avid collectors. Tapestries, metalwork, ceramics, sculptures, paintings and even armour adorned almost every surface in the house. Instead of a house becoming a museum, their residence was intended to be a real home and the antique objects were put into everyday use.



The exhibition featured 16 designers, including six from the Netherlands, whose work was strategically positioned throughout the house. In each room, a designer chair provided seating for museum staff. While the difference in time spanned centuries and the techniques varied, many materials from the new and old pieces were unchanged - wood, stone, ceramic, glass, metal - and themes like time and ornamentation remained. If the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers would have used these design pieces today, they would have had much fun in the process.



Nacho Carbonell’s ‘Medium Memorabilia’ chair placed dramatically in the middle of the salon offered a haven for respite and reflection. The ‘Pump it up’ installation provided a cosy seat in front of the ornate fireplace in the Sala Bevilacqua, while the inflated animals playfully kept the cherubs company above the fireplace. A special chandelier commissioned by French haute couture label Vionnet illuminated the studio with its metal structure of suspended silicone tubes fashioned in shades of blue.



In one of the bedrooms, Thomas Libertiny’s Marble Bust Chair fitted seamlessly into the interior while his Marta Hertford Vase made from beeswax was poised elegantly in a vitrine opposite. Atop a (glass) cabinet of curiosities, the charming kinetic contraptions from Laikingland are themselves modern curiosities that didn’t look out of place with their counterparts below. Made from brass, ceramics, oak and glass, Maarten Baas’ sand timer ‘Just About Now’ sounds the gong when the time is up.  

In the Camera Rossa, Dirk van der Kooij’s Diffusor Cabinet made a strong impression. Its form determined by a mathematical calculation, the tulipwood cabinet with almost hidden drawers was designed as a sound diffusor to reduce echoes and distortion in a space. In this red bedroom, “the cabinet contrasted with the darkness of the space and heavy religious imagery but its ornamental quality fitted right in, and its intricate shapes created a play with the metalwork pattern of flowers at the foot of the bed,” said Van der Kooij.



In the neighbouring room, the projects of Niels Hoebers and Paul Heijnen interacted closely together. Heijnen's Star Wars-like spotlight Hyperion celebrated the beauty of normally hidden constructions and mechanisms, looking ready to come alive at any time. “The lamp contrasted in its form language, but also became part of the room because of its sculptural quality and materiality from the oak wood.

There were also similarities between old and new in the way that things were made never to be thrown away, becoming more valuable over the years: "I wish I could have worked as a carpenter for this family!” says Heijnen. In the opposite corner, the Hyperion came literally alive in Niels Hoebers’ animations. Alongside Walter and Rapture – featuring Nacho Carbonell’s experimental lights for Booo – Hyperion starred in its very own film. Parts of the sets and characters were exhibited together with the films.

“The great thing was that Paul and I were presenting in the same room with the real 2-metre high Hyperion and the scale model,” explains Hoebers. “I’d like to think of my animation presentation as a sort of 21st century painting: perhaps I can nail it onto the wall next time if they allow it…”



Last but not least, an often forgotten space in the house received a special intervention. Blowing constantly changing bubble lampshades, the Surface Tension Lamp designed by Front for Booo mesmerized visitors. “Many people just stopped there for minutes to contemplate the shiny, reflective soap bubbles,” says Marco Tabasso, curator at Rossana Orlandi and partner at Booo. “We kept the room dark with only daylight coming in from window to illuminate the ancient decors of the room, the wooden panelling, the stones and tiles with a dramatic spot on the flow of bubbles from the lamp.” 


The objects presented during the Milan furniture fair are often either exhibited in stand booths, neutral (gallery) spaces or showrooms together with other contemporary design pieces. In this exhibition the design was juxtaposed dramatically with historic pieces in the museum’s opulent interior to provide a surprising context where the products simultaneously clashed and assimilated. In this way, an evolution became apparent that gave a new appreciation to both new and old works.


Tabasso continues: “The installation of the Surface Tension Lamp exactly represents the result we wanted to achieve with this exhibition to create a bridge between the past and future. That was also why we called the exhibition Bagatti Valsecchi 2.0, to represent a new start for this historical place, taking it from the dusts of the past into a new future while respecting what it represents for the city of Milan.” Indeed, the exhibition featuring these antiques of the future, that temporarily resided in their palazzo, would have made the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers very proud.



Bagatti Valsecchi 2.0 is on show through 30 April 2013.

Images courtesy of Galleria Rossana Orlandi
Main image: Nacho Carbonell
Other images: 1. Maarten Baas 2. Dirk van der Kooij 3. Front for BOOO 4.-6. Nacho Carbonell 7. Niels Hoebers 8.-9. Paul Heijnen 10. Studio Libertiny

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