Castello Sforzesco

On the edge of Parco Sempione sits the massive Sforza Castle, originally built in the late 14th century, but transformed (and renamed) into a ducal residence in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. It is a massive, sprawling structure that is now used primarily as a museum and exhibit space. Image

The day I visited there was an outdoor exhibit from Cracking Art Group, which specializes in innovative use of plastic materials to evoke a relationship between the natural and the artificial. This particular installation, "Nido di Rondini" (swallow's nest) consisted of huge plastic, multicolored birds throughout the courtyards. Image
On the street outside the castle, I browsed through a market with all sorts of food stalls (Italian cookies and candies, nuts and spices, cheeses, even a pig on a spit...) as well as jewelry, art, and crafts. Image

As you can see, it is hard to go anywhere in Milan without getting exposed to some sort of art or design!

La Trienniale di Milano

After exploring the Porta Nuova district, we headed over to the Trienniale Design Museum, inside the Palace of Art building on the edge of Parco Sempione. It's dedicated to capturing the essence of Italian design, with a focus on the relationship between art and industry. The museum includes exhibits on architecture, urban design, media arts, music, and more.

There, we enjoyed a curator-led tour of the exhibit, "Italian Design Beyond the Crisis," which featured different approaches to production during each of three decades: the 1930s, 1970s, and 2000s. 

These three periods were chosen to illustrate that years of economic decline tend to stimulate design creativity. Image
It emphasized how design opens up multiple worlds to us, and how everyday items can be beautifully designed to deliver emotion as well as utility. I liked this chair because it reminded me of the Bowdoin sun:Image

And these are former detergent bottles, turned into vases/growing kits:
The last room of the exhibit had floor-to-ceiling glass shelves housing all of the various design artifacts from these decades (with a mirrored ceiling; if you look closely you can see me capturing this photo from the ground below). Image
It became clear through the museum, as well as everything else we've seen on this trip, that even contemporary Italian artists are truly Renaissance people, moving freely between art, design, and storytelling in a variety of media. 

L'Ultima Cena

Cenacolo Vinciano Santa Maria delle Grazie is a church and Dominican convent in central Milan, commissioned in the late 1400s by the dukes of the Sforza family.


After visiting the Dolce & Gabbana concept store at Corso Venezia 7, I took the metro from San Babila to Cadorna in order to view Leonardo Da Vinci's famous mural, The Last Supper (or, L'Ultima Cena). Viewers are limited to 20 at a time, so it requires purchasing tickets in advance (which I had done from home, a few weeks ahead of my departure).

The mural is 15' x 29' and covers the back wall of the convent’s dining hall. It depicts the last supper of Jesus and his disciples as told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. The work was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and completed between 1494 and 1498.

Due to its age, the materials used, and the fact that the monastery was bombed during WWII, leaving Da Vinci's work exposed to the elements for several years before repairs took place, the painting has badly deteriorated over the years despite numerous attempts at restoration. Viewers have to go through a series of humidity-controlled antichambers before entering the refectory, in order to protect it from air and light.

But when you walk into the dimly-lit room, it is just breathtaking. Everyone falls silent, gazing open-mouthed up at the back wall. There are a few benches for those who want to sit and ponder the work, but most people rush up to its edge, eager to see the masterpiece up close and read the historical placards below. No photos are allowed (yet George Clooney apparently caused an uproar when he not only took a picture of it, but used his flash) so I've included one from Wikipedia here:


I was surprised to learn that in 1652 a doorway was cut through the lower portion of the painting, removing Jesus' feet which were said to have been in a position symbolizing his forthcoming crucifixion.

The opposite wall has a larger mural called The Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, completed at the same time (here, also from Wikipedia): Montorfano,_crocifissione,_1497,_con_interventi_di_leonardo_nei_ritratti_dei_duchi

This is a must-see for visitors to Milan. Such an amazing piece of art and history.



On Thursday we drove up to the town of Pregnana Milanese to visit a warehouse sale at Artemide, a world renowned lighting design company founded in the 1960s.


We learned about their Human Light philosophy, a revolutionary concept that views illumination as a way to improve quality of life.

Their process begins with understanding how to respond to individual needs in their different spaces and stages of life.

According to Artemide, "The Human Light is a new way to conceive light to support people in their daily activities, complying with their moods, and promoting their wellbeing." Heady stuff!

But in keeping with everything we've heard about Italian design: there is a desire here to create things that are both functional and beautiful.

Over the years, Artemide (like Alessi) has collaborated with a bevy of famous designers, and their products are exhibited in most museums of modern art around the world.

Too bad I'm not in the market for lighting (and the modern style doesn't match my decor), because everything was marked down 40%-80% at this warehouse sale.

But even if you're not buying, strolling through their showrooms is like visiting an art gallery. Truly works of art.

Zagato Milano

After visiting the studio of Alessi designer Mario Trimarchi, we drove to Rho, Lombardy (northwest of Milan) to visit the headquarters and showroom of Zagato Milano, an independent coach building company that has been building some of the world's most beautiful and winning racing cars since 1919.Image

A representative of the company presented us with a slideshow explaining how founder Ugo Zagato used his background in aeronautics to design light-bodied, aerodynamic racing machines.

Cars at the time were bulky, and Zagato wanted to apply the lightness and strength of aircraft to the automotive business. His focused turned to racecars in the 1920s when Alfa Romeo asked him to revamp their Romeo RL models. Bugatti, Maserati, Diatto, Ferrari, and Rolls Royce all became clients soon thereafter. And Zagato-bodied cars went on to win several of Italy's Mille Miglia races.

What's so interesting is how they modify these cars. Zagato is strictly a coach-builder; they don't modify the mechanics (engine, suspension, etc.), nor do they touch the original cockpit (which has undergone too many crash tests to risk change). The original manufacturer still designs the interior, which is why the cars still carry the badges of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, etc.

Zagato begins with a blueprint of the original car and takes care to ensure that the redesign still accommodates these basic structural elements. Then they design inclined windshields, more aerodynamic headlights, convex bootlids, and perforated disc wheels (to help brake cooling). With the introduction of Plexiglass in the 1940s, he created the "Panoramica" body, and his signature "double bubble" roof. Here you can see the evolution of one design:



In the 1950s, Ugo's son Elio began racing cars in the new Gran Turismo category, which included cars designed for everyday use but sleek enough for weekend racing. 

Today, Zagato produces bespoke cars for racers and car afficionados alike. They collaborate with the customer and the original manufacturer to infuse more personality into mass-production vehicles, typically working on 2-door, 2-seat coupes from Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati, Diatto and Alpha Romeo. Here are before and after pictures of the car that was customized for the CEO of Bentley (note the curved back window and double bubble roof):   Image

We then proceeded to the showroom to marvel at a selection of Zagato-body cars.Image

The full lineup:Image
Ferrari Testarossa:Image


Diatto: Image


Alpha Romeo:

Alpha romeo


Aston Martin:Image

This one (sorry, I can't remember what it is!)


And this little fellow (and yes, that sales woman behind me is smoking in the showroom! They smoke everywhere here...even in the restaurants):Image


I don't know much about cars, but even I could appreciate the beauty and design of these. And of course the men in the group, who seemed only mildly interested in the Missoni visit yesterday, were in Heaven :)

Mario Trimarchi

On Wednesday morning we went to Mario Trimarchi's multidisciplinary design studio FRAGILE. Mario is one of Allessi's design collaborators that we heard about the previous day.

Like most places in Milan, the studio on via Ariosta sits behind a large wooden door and through a courtyard, secluded from the noise of the busy city street. The courtyard is lush with flowers, yellow mosaic walkways, and pale pink, paisley walls. Image
The studio entrance is at the top of an ornate marble staircase, and opens up to a bright office with high ceilings that, according to Mario, "let you fill the room with ideas from the top of your head." Image
He is an animated man with round glasses and frequent hand gestures. His passion and energy for his work is apparent as he tells us, "we are not eternal, but most of the objects we design are," and, "some of the best designs use humor" (another theme for the week). Image
He shared several of his designs with us, explaining how they went from concept (which he comes up with and draws by hand) to production (which is done with the aid of a computer and his Swiss assistant, Didier) and package design (which he also has a hand in). By way of example, he explained how as a boy in Sicily he was fond of playing cards. When the Scirocco winds blew off the coast of North Africa, they not only deposited Sahara dust on everything, they also caused his cards to flutter through the air. This image led to the "La Stanza Dello Scirocco" collection of stainless steel, geometrically irregular items like the below fruit basket: First he sketches his ideas. Image
Then they design a prototype with the aid of a computer. Image
The design gets manufactured. Not only is it functional, but it's a thing of beauty, where even the shadows it projects become part of the design. Image
Lastly, packaging is designed with the same level of attention as the product itself. Image
This was another great example of how everyday items can be beautifully designed. And how visually interesting work spaces can provide a lot of creative energy.

Ornamenti d'Autore

"Even in a piece of non-precious jewelry, you can see the world."
-Deanna Farneti Cera
On Monday morning we visited Oramenti d'Autore, the atelier of Deanna Farneti Cera, a world renowned collector and scholar of fashion jewelry (also referred to as "Bijoux," but preferably not "costume.") Image
Deanna has thousands of pieces in her collection, including notable items from Chanel, Givenchy, and a necklace Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Interestingly, I had seen some of her pieces before, as she supplied a lot of the items featured in a recent exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design in New YOrk City. That one featured the collection of Barbera Burger, who is the top collector of fashion jewelry in the world, and to whom Deanna sold many pieces. Image
Deanna has incredible knowledge of, and passion for, the world of Bijoux, having spent over 30 years in the industry and written a dozen books on the topic. Listening to her speak, you realize that every piece of jewelry is an artifact with cultural significance. Image
She talked about how this type of jewelry came to be - in the 1800's the bourgeoisie wanted to have the kind of jewelry that the nobility had, and new materials became available to make similar, but more affordable versions - and how this kind of jewelry evolved based on the decade and the character of the country of origin. For example, Dior in the 1950's loved the work of Claude Monet, so his brooches were very delicate and flowery; in contrast, costume jewels coming out of the U.S. in the 1980's were very ostentatious, like the times. She also reviewed major turning points in the history of Bijoux, like in 1895 when handmade crystal stones transitioned to industrial cut thanks to Swarovski's patented machine. Image
After her talk, we were allowed to explore the atelier and all of the jewelry and books it houses. It's a cool space: white walls and ceilings with a wrought iron spiral staircase joining the ground floor with a second floor loft, both ares full of jewelry trays, display cases, and stacks of books. Image
Here I am sporting an elaborate Givenchy necklace (pictured above)... Image
...and holding a hand-made beaded clutch that was carried by Jackie Onassis (pictured). Image
What an interesting and enjoyable visit - Deanna was so kind to spend so much time with us, especially on a holiday!

Lulu, Alethea, Monkeys, and Banksy

Today's musings:

1) If you happen to see my French Bulldog Lulu, wish her a Happy Birthday. She turned 10 today.


2) My friend Alethea Black, an immensely talented author and speaker (I love her her collection of short stories, I Knew You'd Be Lovely) has done it again with this incredibly inspirational story she told at the Moth GrandSLAM (a storyteller's collaborative):

3) The bewitching hour is upon us. Send your loved ones a cute Halloween e-card, courtesy of Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled.
4) Graffiti artist Banksy again disses the Advertising industry (my industry!) while simultaneously showing he's a master at brand building.
5) If you have money to burn, check out IfOnly, a "marketplace for experiences" that just raised $12 Million to continue offering its members unique and memorable experiences with top sports/film/music/lifestyle luminaries (think dinner party for 12 with chef Michael Chiarello at his Napa Valley vineyard).  For every item or experience sold, a donation is made to the charity of each luminary’s choice.

6) I finally finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and I really enjoyed it. Now I'm itching for an adventure. And want to write a memoir.


Assembled at Assembly Row

There are only a few weeks left to check out Assembled, the handmade arts market at Assembly Row  in Somerville. Featuring artists from all over New England, as well as [the now ubiquitous] food trucks and live music, it's giving Boston's SoWa and Greenway Open Markets a run for their money.


Among the booths that caught my eye: The Crunchy Home, a line of beauty, baby, and home products like face scrubs, lotions, and candles, all made with natural ingredients (find them on Etsy here; they make a great grapefruit scrub):


...and Chappy Girls Jewelry, which offers affordable bracelets like these Breast Cancer Awareness ones that support the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation in Providence, RI:


There were also some pretty Swarovski crystals at the Karol Peralta Jewelry booth.

Assembled runs Saturdays from 11am to 4pm, through September 21st.  Also this weekend: Charlestown's Art in the Park and the Boston Calling music festival on City Hall Plaza. But I'll miss both because I'll be searching for treasures in Brimfield!

Barry McGee

Over the years, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has hosted shows by different graffiti artists, most notably Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos. Their latest exhibit in this genre is from San Francisco-based Barry McGee, who got his start in the late 80's under the tag name "Twist."

Last Friday night I attended the Opening Night reception for McGee's new show, which included a cocktail party in the ICA lobby (a beautiful space overlooking the Boston Harbor) followed by a talk with the artist and a 20 year survey of his work.

Barry McGee (5)

The talk was bizarre - McGee is painfully shy and was visibly uncomfortable being in the spotlight. He repeatedly asked for the lights to be turned down (taking the focus off of him) and encouraged audience members to talk so that he wouldn't have to. I found this so interesting because his work is very bold, infused with bright colors, hard lines, and a fair amount of social commentary/activism. But I guess the man prefers to stay in the shadows, letting his paint cans do the talking.

Barry McGee (7)

McGee admits that now that he's 46 and a father he has lost interest in tagging, but continues to bring urban installations into art spaces and galleries. From the ICA write up:

"At once humorous, political, and difficult (especially for those who see private property as an inalienable right), his art underscores the complexities of life in early twenty-first-century America, a country in the midst of wars, a financial crisis, unemployment, class stratification, and the ever-cheerful exhortation to keep consuming."

He's decidedly anti-consumerism and anti-establishment, remarking,

“If I live in an urban center — in a city — with constant advertising, I feel like I have every right to partake also. I don’t feel like it should be limited to corporations that can buy ad space. I just always assume that anything written on the wall was the authentic thing to me. The real voice.”

Barry McGee (13)

The market value of his work rose considerably after it was included in the 2001 Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art show in Italy. Today, much of his San Francisco street art has been stolen (although I did hear in his recent NPR interview that some work can still be found in and around Boston). And he just created a new [sanctioned] piece on the back of the House of Blues building while he was in town last week.

Unlike other cities that are known for their graffiti - areas of Buenos Aires, Old San Juan, San Francisco, and Venice Beach come to mind - Boston doesn't have much elaborate street art. Just last month, local artist Cyrille Conan was hired to paint a 14'x17' mural on the old Boston Herald building in the South End, but it was purely to drive publicity of a new mixed-use housing and commercial complex (dubbed The Ink Block) that is going up there. The Herald building - along with Conan's work - was demolished just a few weeks later (but not before I captured the shot below).


The best-kept graffiti secret in the city might be at my office. We have several walls that were painted years ago by some local teens who got caught tagging and were sentenced to community service - which included coming in to our space and putting their talent to good use. Take a look:

Barry McGee (3)

Barry McGee (4)

Here is the photo set from McGee's exhibit, which is at the ICA through September 2nd.