Obsessed with beauty, Mollino was not only an architect and a writer, but also a racing car driver and airplane pilot. With his photography of the female body, he portrayed and enhanced its iconography and beauty
Carlo Mollino was born in 1905 into a wealthy family from the Turin upper middle class. After the death of his father Eugenio, an engineer and architect, he inherited Villa Avondo, a small apartment in the centre of Turin, in a late 19th-century villa. Unbeknownst to his contemporaries, he renovated it. However, strange as it may seem, would never live there, spending not even a single night within its walls. As in keeping with a modern pharaoh, it was to become the abode and spiritual resting place for his soul after death.
The house is strewn with occult symbolic references linked to the civilisation of the ancient Egyptians, a culture that seduced him and exercised a powerful influence throughout his life: from the nineteenth-century bed in the shape of a boat, representing the transport necessary for the passage to the afterlife, to the oval table reminiscent of a funerary monument, including also a wall covered with colourful butterflies, a sign of rebirth and regeneration.
After the inauguration of the 2018 collection of works by Enoc Perez dedicated to an interior of this mysterious dwelling, today Casa Mollino Museum, is inspired by the exhibition taking place currently in Reggio Emilia at the Maramotti collection, entitled Mollino/Insides.
The exhibition itinerary focuses on the dialogue, in a game of references, between the polaroid snaps of various models and friends taken by Mollino in the 50s and 60s revisited through the gazes of two contemporary artists, the Puerto Rican painter Enoc Perez and the German photographer Brigitte Schindler, which explore the world of Carlo Mollino and his refined and complex imagery through the reinterpretation of the interiors of his home.
Mollino always reserved a privileged role for photography which had accompanied him since childhood, when his father, in 1910, set up a dark room in the family residence in Rivoli. Pioneer of the Polaroid camera in Italy, he was among the first to grasp the revolutionary significance of these small “instant” photographs. Photography would become a tool that gave life and shape to a different world, with its symbolic and often complex deciphering narratives and scenarios.
An artist’s pleasure is in tune with the night.
He collected airplanes and racing cars, but also houses in Turin where he could frame his images celebrating female form and beauty surrounded by fabrics, eclectic accessories and furniture designed by Mollino himself. His women, friends, casual lovers and models enticed aboard one of his Porsches, though often portrayed naked and in bold poses, are transfigured and transported into a dreamlike and symbolic dimension, as in a Dali painting, where visionary transformation and creation give rise to parallel universes.
Architect, designer, writer, photographer, set designer, aircraft and automobile sports pilot, professor of architectural composition at the Polytechnic of Turin, esoteric expert, enthusiast of the mountains and skiing, but enthusiast above all of women.
His enormous eclectic culture is expressed through projects with unprecedented solutions, where rigorous technical preparation, with a particular attentive to its functional aspect, is combined with an aesthetic that reconciles elements of modernity with a strong sensitivity to the ancient.
Mollino himself clarifies his position: “The authentic artist always faces in two directions: he comes from tradition, that is, from contemporary taste, and proceeds beyond, where the common taste has not yet arrived”.
In Mollino’s work he creates for himself, his curiosity is extraordinary, transformed each time into a learning process. He uses the knowledge that comes from his many passions to create, always in the name of innovation. The aeronautical interest pushed him to design an entire airplane for aerobatics. But he also devoted himself to the design of interior objects. The Cadma lamp (1947), whose refined scroll imitates the acrobatic manoeuvres that he himself performed in his aerobatic displays.
The shape of the supports of the Royal table (1947) derives from the skeleton frames of the aircraft produced in Turin by Ansaldo, of which his father was a manager. All these projects also highlight Mollino’s taste for hi-tech, albeit handcrafted.
He also invented various racing cars including, in 1955, the flaming red Bisiluro Damolnar, which that same year would participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, now on display at the Museum of Technology in Milan.
He designed private homes, important public buildings of international renown, theatres, condominiums, and above all furniture. Organic, neo-baroque shapes inspired by the world of nature and feminine curves. The shape of the top glass shelf of the Arabesque table (1949) echoes Leonor Fini’s surrealist drawing of a woman viewed from behind, while the wooden structure is inspired by a sculpture by Jean Arp.
Yet, among the architects who stamped the imagery of the 1950s with their designs, Carlo Mollino represents an extraordinary case of a designer whose genius cannot be “industrialised”. The great inventiveness and the extreme formal freedom keep could never adapt to industrial repetition and constancy.
His work consisted of only one-of-a-kind pieces that contain many innovations in techniques and materials, such as the cold bending of plywood which he himself patented, which however would remain confined to the dimension of the furniture and the uniqueness of the object.
An undisputed attraction in major auction houses, his pieces are sold for millions of dollars.
His furniture can be seen today at the MoMA in New York and at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – some of the more interesting prototypes were even reproduced in series.
He died of a heart attack on August 23rd, 1973. His soul is said to hover among the rooms of that house, accompanied by the gentle beating of hundreds of colourful butterfly wings.
Maria Laura Sultana