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The Triennale of Milan
Between Construction and Criticism
of Design Culture in Italy

2012 ¦ Historical and archival research [IT] Graduation Thesis in Visual and Multimedia Communications at the IUAV University of Venice Supervisors: Mario Lupano, Maddalena Dalla Mura

Embracing methodologies and critical viewpoints pertaining to disciplines such as recent art history, new museology and curatorial studies, my graduation thesis starts from the idea that an exhibition-based approach to design historiography could be a fertile and promising research area, able to suggest original reflections and shed light on contents and documents which have often been overlooked.

The case study on which I focused is an Italian institution, the Triennale of Milan, traditionally involved in holding periodical exhibitions about industrial design. The current literature widely recognizes Triennale’s role in shaping and promoting design culture in Italy. However, a research path that has not been undertaken so far concerns the interpretation of the Triennale as an engine for the production of cultural discourse, critical investigation and collective imagination about design through formats, tools and languages which are specific to the exhibition context.

The first chapter is devoted to a “cultural biography” of italian design within the exhibitions held by the Triennale between 1923 and 1968. I tried to highlight here how the inclusion into specific exhibition formats contributed to connect design with precise ideologies, giving it a contextual identity and sometimes even anticipating its future developments.

The second and third chapters deepen the analysis focusing on two single editions of the Triennale, the 10th and the 13th, held respectively in 1954 and 1964. During this decade, the way design was interpreted, conceptualized and practiced by its own protagonists dramatically changed, and I tried to investigate how this shift has been represented via the medium of exhibitions.

During the preparation of my thesis I spent a period of intensive research at Triennale’s historical archive, dealing with original documentary sources related to the editions I was taking into account. With an emphasis on sources’ specificity, I mainly focused on materials which are inherently collateral to the exhibition context, such as exhibition catalogs, visual reproductions of the exhibits and articles from the different editions’ press reviews.

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Domus Nova Family Hall, 3rd Biennale of Monza (then Triennale of Milan), 1927
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

Show of the High Technological Product, 14th Triennale of Milan, 1968
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

Industrial Design Internatonal Show, 10th Triennale of Milan, 1954 
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

Italian Section: Leisure and Water, 13th Triennale of Milan, 1964 
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

“The 10th Triennale proves that machine can be beautiful”, press review article, August 1954
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

Short guide of the 10th Triennale of Milan, 1954
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

Exhibition catalog of the 13th Triennale of Milan, 1964
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano

Preparatory drawing of the Italian section, 13th Triennale of Milan, 1964
© Archivio storico La Triennale di Milano