Gio Ponti, the architect/designer/publisher/artist/mad creative genius, flies a little under the radar in the United States—but he’s being rediscovered by a new legion of design aficionados.
“He’s still not that well known in the U.S.,” admits Perri Lee Roberts, curator of a 2017 Gio Ponti exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art and professor emerita of art history at the University of Miami. “It might be that, during his lifetime, the angular, stripped-down aesthetic of Bauhaus was considered to be the epitome of ‘modern’ in this country. While Ponti was into function and using modern materials, he also loved curves. His designs were what I would call ‘animated.’”
The breadth and depth of Ponti’s work is staggering, due to his intense work
ethic. “He kept a drafting table in his bedroom so he could work in the middle of the night” says Roberts, who also authored the Georgia exhibit’s catalogue, Modern Living: Gio Ponti and the Twentieth-Century Aesthetics of Design.
Born in Milan in 1891 to a middle-class family, Ponti had dreams of being a
painter but was steered toward more practical studies in architecture. During his six- decade career, he designed scores of buildings in Italy and worldwide (his only U.S. building was the 1971 expansion of the Denver Art Museum), founded the design magazine Domus in 1928 and taught at the Polytechnic University of Milan.
Astute collectors have come to know Ponti for his household items, decorative objects and furnishings, which are still much coveted at auction houses and galleries around the world. Ponti’s collabs were legion.
At the start of his career in 1923, he became artistic director of Richard Ginori, the august Italian ceramics firm, where he shook up traditional designs while still honoring classic images. He delved deep into his knowledge of antiquities to create limited-edition pieces aimed squarely at the collector’s market, with luxurious hand-painted imagery and gold embellishments. Roberts points out that he also expanded the ceramics firm’s production lines with more functional items, such as dinnerware, paperweights, bowls, inkwells, ashtrays and cigarette boxes. Many of Ponti’s designs from Richard Ginori are still being made today.
Ponti, who died in 1979, also created silverware for Christofle, coffee sets for Krupp and furniture for Cassina (his “Superleggera” (Superlight) chair is still produced) and furniture and lighting for for FontanaArte. Flatware by Ponti is still being produced by Sambonet as well.
“From designing toilets and textiles, to espresso machines and buildings, Ponti was truly a renaissance man,” says Roberts. “He did it all.”
Roberts’ own epiphany with Ponti began some 15 years ago when she saw some of his design drawings at The Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach. Her interest morphed into curating the Georgia Museum of Art exhibit, for which she criss-crossed the country searching out gallerists, auction houses and private collectors to obtain pieces for the show. She also traveled to Milan to meet with Ponti’s grandson, who runs his grandfather’s archives and foundation. Robert’s interest in Ponti didn’t cease after her exhibit closed—she recently returned from Paris where she toured the first Gio Ponti retrospective in France at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which runs through May 5,
She also points out that The Wolfsonian is featuring an Italian textiles exhibit running through April 28 2019 that includes some of Ponti’s work.
“Ponti also designed the interiors of Italian cruise ships, including the Andrea Doria, which carried tourists between Italy and the United States after World War II,” she says. “He was putting Italian design in front of the world. Ponti, through all of his work, was very much influential in how the United States and the rest of the world came to perceive modern Italian design as great design.”
Roberts believes that Ponti’s under-the-radar status in this country is coming to an end. “There’s a whole new Gio Ponti ‘underground’ here in the United States, “ she says. “People are discovering and rediscovering him. If you follow the prices for his original pieces, you’ll notice that they’ve really gone up in the past few years.”
It’s fitting—40 years after this renaissance man’s death, he’s having a
A few links for more information:
Wolfsonian Museum Website
Wolfsonian Textile Exhibition Page
Gio Ponti Ceramics Collection For Richard Ginori
Dinnerware by Gio Ponti et al for Richard Ginori
Musee des Arts Decoratifs Gio Ponti Exhibition Page
Conca Flatware by Gio Ponti for Sambonet