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Exhibition showcases commissions produced for world fairs, private homes, clubs, and ocean liners
Rug design, 1927. Fortunato Depero (1892–1960), designer. Collage on paper Loan, MITA Archive of M. A. Ponis, on loan to The Wolfsoniana–Palazzo Ducale Fondazione per la Cultura, Genoa.

MIAMI BEACH, FLA.- The Wolfsonian­–Florida International University is presenting a special exhibition co-organized with The Wolfsoniana, the museum’s sister institution in Genoa, Italy, in cooperation with the Consulate General of Italy in Miami. Made in Italy: MITA Textile Design 1926–1976, on view November 16, 2018–April 28, 2019, explores fifty years of collaboration between the Genovese textile firm Manifattura Italiana Tappeti Artistici (MITA) and artists such as Fortunato Depero, Gio Ponti, and Arturo Martini. Pulling works from both the Wolfsonian and Wolfsoniana collections in a rare joint presentation, Made in Italy reflects the expert craftsmanship and full diversity of MITA’s production over its five-decade span. Original works, design drawings, and photographs illustrate the firm’s remarkable output of rugs, carpets, tapestries, limited-edition art panels, printed fabrics, scarves, and major commissions that carried the banner of modernism from the age of Fascism into the 1970s.

“Made in Italy illustrates a cross-section of Italian creativity orchestrated by one of the most resourceful entrepreneurs of the twentieth century,” said Silvia Barisione, Wolfsonian curator, who organized the exhibition alongside her Wolfsoniana counterparts, Matteo Fochessati and Gianni Franzone. “It is truly unique to see designs of such a wide variety of art movements and styles produced by a single company. Through them, we can trace not only a succession of multitalented artists, but also an evolution of taste—a keen eye for that ‘next big thing’ in art.”

Added Fochessati: “MITA’s textiles travelled around the world, participating in important art exhibitions and defining the interior design of major Italian ocean liners, which Gio Ponti considered ‘floating art galleries.’ But the greatest MITA innovation was in bringing avant-garde artistic languages into everyday life.”

Founded in 1926 by Mario Alberto Ponis, MITA was formed “with the aim of using new mechanical inventions in the manufacture of classic hand-knotted carpets”—thus merging new technologies with artisanal traditions for a characteristically Italian approach to industry. MITA began working in concert with creative thinkers on the forefront of modernism such as Fortunato Depero, Mario Labò, and Gio Ponti, who produced rug patterns and designs that captured the aesthetic spirit of Futurism, Rationalism, and the Novecento movement, respectively. Many of these partnerships lasted for years and were represented in submissions to world’s fairs and the esteemed Triennales of Decorative and Modern Industrial Art in Milan. Objects in this first section will include design drawings, ceramic pieces, and original carpets.

Made in Italy continues the narrative thread of MITA’s history with photographs documenting the construction of a Rationalist-inspired factory in Nervi, a suburb of Genoa, in the late 1930s. Designed by Luigi C. Daneri, the new headquarters embodied the most modern trends at the time with a three-story, functionalist structure boasting a flat roof, clean lines, and ribbon windows that allowed natural light to flood the workspace. In MITA’s signature mix of old and new, Daneri blended contemporary elements like poured concrete and glass blocks with traditional, local building materials such as slate, terrazzo, and painted stucco. Though inaugurated in 1941, the factory was quickly converted into a military supply facility for the production of life jackets, emergency food bags, and helmets during the Second World War, and was ultimately occupied by the German army following the Italian armistice.

Most of Made in Italy’s materials date to after the war, when MITA greatly expanded its offerings beyond carpets and rugs to include tapestries, fabrics, and other products. Collaborating with the most inventive and experimental artists of the period—many of them revolving around the magazine Domus—Ponis extended MITA’s visual vocabulary to include geometric abstraction, graphic illustration, and more, realized most vividly in limited-edition art panels printed on hemp or linen and signed by the artists. MITA began tackling ambitious projects for private homes, bars, clubs, and restaurants, and its influence was cemented with the firm’s participation in Italy at Work: Her Renaissance in Design Today, a trendsetting exhibition that toured the U.S. in the early 1950s.

MITA’s fifty-year reign culminated in large postwar commissions for Italian ocean liners and shipping companies. Ponis teamed up with naval interior designers Gustavo Pulitzer Finali and Nino Zoncada to create eye-popping tapestries, curtains, and furnishings that adorned lavish spaces on the vessels, most notably the first-class reading room of the ill-fated Andrea Doria, which sank in 1956. These artists’ work often extended to designing the fleets’ promotional materials, so vintage advertising posters, brochures, and drawings will be paired with photographs of MITA’s ship decorations in situ to represent this swansong era.

Many of the works on view in Made in Italy come from the M.A. Ponis MITA Archive, which is on long-term loan at The Wolfsoniana, supplemented by selections from The Wolfsonian and Italian collections. Highlights of the exhibition include:

• Futurist drawings for carpets (1927) by Fortunato Depero shown alongside his famous “bolted” book, which features a special dedication to Ponis and was designed to destroy neighboring books when shelved;

• A design drawing (1935) and corresponding MITA carpet with Gio Ponti’s playful chair motif, revealing Ponti’s habit of humorously representing a decorative object in a pattern for a textile;

• Two drawings by designer Ettore Sottsass Jr. and ceramicist Antonia Campi, MITA’s winning submissions in a rug design contest held at the 1947 Milan Triennale;

• Whirl, an art panel (1957) by Eugenio Carmi rendered in an Abstract Expressionist style and exhibited at the Fundación Mendoza in Caracas in 1959; and

• 1950s–60s souvenir scarves sold through ocean liners’ on-board boutiques and presented to female voyagers at the end of a cruise, including one by Enrico Paulucci designed for the famous Leonardo Da Vinci, the Andrea Doria’s replacement.

“Made in Italy is The Wolfsonian’s first collaboration on this scale with our sister museum, The Wolfsoniana,” said Wolfsonian director Tim Rodgers. “We’re excited to draw the link between these two great institutions, both the brainchildren of Micky Wolfson, and create a dialogue that provides our visitors with a Genovese experience right here in Miami.”

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