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Hot-air balloons, fish, harlequins, walking sticks, capitals, butterflies, lace, playing cards, hats, swords, hands… we could continue like this for hours. During his prolific and multifaceted career, Piero Fornasetti has designed more than 13,000 objects and the list of decorative motifs does not end in these few lines.



If we wanted to describe all variations of one of his recurring motifs, this article would not be enough. If we were, in fact, to dwell on the 350 variations of the enigmatic face of opera singer Lina Cavalieri – continually rehashed from an image of her he found in a Nineteenth century French magazine – we could not avoid a long digression on his modus operandi, similar to many creative processes of artistic avant-garde of the last Century.


We could define Piero Fornasetti as a “exquisite thief” of the “already done.” A “manipulator” of images taken from old books, magazines or photographs and meticulously stored in binders from which, later on, he takes them again to decorate the furnishings he hand-crafts in his studio in Milan.


Whoever visited the exhibition Piero Fornasetti.100 years of practical madness – on display at the Triennale Design Museum from November 13, 2013 to February 9, 2014 – must have had tangible evidence of the variety of these decorative motifs. It was an exhibition curated by his son Barnaba, held on the occasion of the centenary of his birth and thought up to place this rich and complex figure in the historical-critical scenes. Because – as the museum’s director Silvana Annichiarico pointed out – Piero Fornasetti was “an inevitable point in the history of design.” A unique and original figure, “a man with the intelligent hand” who was not only a designer and decorator, but also a collector, painter, printer, craftsman, designer, gallery owner and curator of exhibitions.


Few, for example, will know that since 1940 he started making books, for the most part in limited edition, that he liked to send to friends and customers. Volumes that can easily be defined artists’ books. As the illustrated calendars to browse for fun rather than simply keep track of time. Month after month, one delves deep into his ironic and dreamlike world. In this, some good examples are volumes such as Lunario del sole per l’anno 1951 with the text of the painter Fabrizio Clerici, or Il vero pittore. Calendario pel 1948 per gli amici di Piero Fornasetti.

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In the latter, in fact, the year is divided into 12 tables, each one double-page printed and depicting two mirror illustrations; nothing but a double game, where, taking a closer look, it is often possible to identify false symmetries.

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A subtle game that seems to refer to the title of the volume and leads us to ask if the true artist is the one who is able to faithfully reproduce reality. One of the many possible interpretations which, however, leads us to think about his personal relationship with reality and everyday experiences. The same reality and everyday experiences he described with irony during his whole life, contaminating them with his practical madness.

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