ESTORICK COLLECTION OF MODERN ART
SEPT 2020 - JUNE 2021
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
Mario Alberto Ponis must have been quite a visionary industrialist. From his textile factory in Genoa he managed to engage the most significant artists of the Italian Avant Garde, encompassing Futurism and Abstract Expressionism. MITA (Manifattura Italiana Tappeti Artistici) became an industrial and artistic collaboration producing fabrics, rugs and textiles for fifty years from 1926 until the factory eventually folded.
During this time, the likes of Gio Ponti designed rugs, Eugenio Carmi painted fabrics and Michael Rachlis created tapestries. The list of artists working for MITA is certainly illustrious and the Estorick has collated an expansive collection for its exhibition Italian Threads which runs until January 2021.
Top left to right: Gio Ponti (1891–1979) Seggioline (Chairs) rug, 1935; Eugenio Carmi (1920–2016) Astrazione (Abstraction) fabric design, c. 1954; Michael Rachlis (1884–1953) Design for a tapestry in the Andrea Doria’s First Class Reading-Room 1952
Bottom left to right: Enrico Paulucci delle Roncole (1901–1999) Barche (Boats) tapestry, c.1953; Bice Lazzari (1900–1981) Design for a rug, 1954; Eugenio Carmi (1920–2016) Dubrovnik scarf design, 1956–59
Perhaps the exhibition could have been called "Men in Stitches" or "Men of Cloth"? Interestingly, all the artists associated with MITA textiles are men. Italian men since the early twentieth century have seamlessly (forgive pun) considered textiles an art form despite common perceptions that textiles are a woman's "craft".
In Britain and the States, artists such as Anni Albers and Sonia Delaunay have been heralded as a challenge to such misconceptions with the focus on elevating textiles from craft to art, or at least endorsing craft, and thereby valuing women’s creativity. Indeed, Anni Albers, a former Bauhaus student and one of the most influential textile artists of the twentieth century, was the first weaver to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1949. In 2018 the Tate Modern staged an exhibition in her honour following a retrospective of the abstract artist Sonia Delaunay in 2015 who worked across a number of areas including textiles and clothing.
And yet, in plain sight, MITA had been heralding male artists working with textiles without anyone noticing this point, not even themselves. Probably the association with industry attracted these men to design textiles? Probably, they did not actually weave, stitch or crotchet? None-the-less, the Estorick’s heady display from MITA turns the tables on textiles as a feminine project.
It definitely places the craft of textiles in the realms of art, which was Ponsi’s intention not simply by collaborating with modernists for product, but also showcasing their work at world art fairs including the Triennales of Decorative and Modern Industrial Art in Milan. MITA won commissions from wealthy private homes and enterprises such as luxury ocean liners including the ill-fated Andrea Doria which sank near Nantuket in 1956. A review of Italian Threads cannot be left on a sombre note, however. It's a fun and absorbing collection which trots back and forth through the history of the Italian Avant Garde in its most tactile form despite signs (understandably) prohibiting touch.
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN
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