Ugo La Pietra and Alberto Cavalli (eds)

The conference ‘Né arte né design’ (‘Neither Art nor Design’), held at the Triennale di Milano on the initiative of the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte in September 2019 offered some interesting analyses and ideas on the theme of the applied arts in Italy, looking at the disciplinary field from a contemporary perspective.

Chaired by Ugo La Pietra, an architect and designer who has long been seen as a key figure in the sector of the applied arts, and Alberto Cavalli, director of the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte, founded in Milan by Franco Cologni and active for twenty-five years now in the preservation and promotion of the arts and crafts, the event brought together many authoritative names of historians, scholars, teachers, designers, artisans and other professional figures with the aim of tackling the theme from a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds. The day of studies was divided into two parts, one devoted to the discipline itself and the other to questions of training, renewing the attention paid to a sector that is known internationally as ‘craft’ or the ‘decorative arts’. An area that does not coincide with art, is remote from industrial design and occupies a quite different place from the traditional arts and crafts.

‘Over the course of more than thirty years,’ observes La Pietra, ‘I have visited many areas devoted to a particular craft (from the potters of Caltagirone to the mosaicists of Friuli) in an attempt to bring design (the project of applied art) into those workshops now abandoned for many decades by the teacher of ornamental design, the architect and the artist and decorator. The academies were set up in the 16th century to “bring design” into the world of crafts spread all over our country. So I asked myself: what has happened to the discipline of “decoration”? I knew it had nothing to do with art, that it was very different from industrial design and that it could not be equated with the traditional arts and crafts. I soon realized that outside Italy this has always been a broad disciplinary area: from the United States and Northern Europe to Japan and Korea, there were the decorative arts, often referred to more succinctly as “craft”. Thus, in recent decades, while we were cultivating “industrial design”, this disciplinary field has been growing abroad and now comprises schools, museums, institutions, galleries, the market, collecting... In the last few decades the decorative arts have lost (in Italy) their own disciplinary framework, a field that ought, if not to coincide, then at least be comparable with that of international craft.’

These and other ideas have been subjected by the organizers to the scrutiny of a common and variegated reflection, in order to finally take stock of the present and the future of our applied arts, with all their problems and potentialities, in a world that is changing at a dizzy pace.

More than one contributor expressed the hope that the Triennale would once again become what it has been in the past, a point of reference and a support for this debate, a place for the exchange of ideas and for promotion of their renewal, with a programme of exhibitions, meetings and debates that would favour innovation in craft practices, in terms of their relationship to Italian design as well.