December 27 2017

Salone del Mobile: A semiotic aesthetic map

by Anna-Alexandra

A visit to Milan’s Salone del Mobile is like mounting an artistic, multicultural ferris wheel. The streets are full of scents and colours, and many different languages titillate the ear. People from all over the world come to pay homage to superb product design, but also to art, because Salone is so much more than a furniture show. Having stepped up from its original concept, function and scope, it is now a formidable encounter for connoisseurs of aesthetics and the latest trends in contemporary design. The observer’s eye becomes ravenous for beauty, novelty and surprising solutions, and gets used to being inspired just like one gets used to breathing.   

A natural instinct is born to observe and to read everything like a semiotic aesthetic map. You detect codes in the way people are dressed and in the way they interact with the environment. Intrigued, you transcribe parts of conversation in French, Italian and English, overheard next to some installation or stand. Your head can get dizzy by this multispectral cultural fusion. The ferris wheel parallel above was not accidental, as, during the whole time, you relive the exaltation of a child in an amusement park. Sparkling impressions and glasses abound, scattered programmes are everywhere, and everything shines and lures the visitor. To add some texture to this imagery, I can say that, based on statistics, this year’s edition of the biggest design forum attracted over 2,400 exhibitors and around 340,000 visitors from 165 different countries, and was covered by over 5,000 journalists.  

A key thing about Salone is precisely the impossibility to visit everything you wish and have put on your to-do list or how-to-be-in-10-places-at-once.

Exhibitors’ presentations begin at a long-thought choice of space, especially as in the case of Fuorisalone and artists offering their visions, and continues with scrupulous attention to every single detail of their installations, brochures and promotional materials, menus etc.    

It is impressive how what was originally a furniture exhibition has today become a cultural forum of global significance. This is confirmed not just by statistics, but also by the fact that Salone has turned into a platform through which artists can send out even political and social messages. This year’s examples were GOD, a project by Alberto Biagetti and Laura Baldassari, curated by Maria Cristina Didero, and Raumplan’s Capitalism Is Over, designed for Cascina Cuccagna.  

The 56th edition of Salone maps out interesting trends, some of which connected with using natural, ecological or recycled materials and turning to minimalistic design, pastel colours and organic shapes as sources of inspiration.  

Something that caught my eye was the Hermès installation, designed by Studio Hermès in collaboration with Guillaume Delvigne and Damian O’Sullivan. Hermès showed their home collection in Brera Design District. The choice of space and venue was excellent, and the arrangement of the stand was architectural and minimalistic, with an inviting sunny ambience, where colour, texture and objects blended together perfectly.

Vincenzo de Cotiis’s studio gallery hosted a very stylish and elegant presentation of Project Baroquism. The minimalistic industrial space was a superb match to the project, lending extra prominence to the objects. Spaciousness and harsh texture provided a fine frame to the otherwise heavy and imposing marble and glass furniture, evocative of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Baroque symbology. 

Another fascinating venue, Nilufar Gallery and Depot, is a must-see on the agenda of any aficionado of design history and the development of conceptual design. The space is poetic and film-like, a crossover between a gallery and a warehouse. Nilufar specialises in selections of retro furniture and objects, but also promotes projects by contemporary artists.

Studio SWINE’s installation with COS, which was also the most instagrammed, was another example of aestheticism. Both architectural and scientifically experimental, the project - a blooming tree - is the creation of Japanese architect Azusa Murakimi and British artist Alexander Groves.

Most remarkable in Rho Fiera was the Flos stand, designed by Clavi Brambilla, which hosted projects by emblematic designers like Philippe Starck, Michael Anastassiades, Konstantin Grcic, Barber & Osgerby, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Vincent Van Duysen, Piero Lissoni, Nendo and Formafantasma. Carefully constructed over an impressively large area, the stand felt like an archaic maze full of plants and light.