From the forest of possible choices for some exhibitions, paying tribute this autumn 2018 to Gio Ponti, seemed the most obvious one. This great tree is proudly-rooted (…) self-evident. There is no particular anniversary to celebrate in Ponti’s long creative career which started in the 1920s and remained prolific right up until his death in 1979. So prolific that the elegant archidesigner Gio Ponti, with an almost limitless creativity, left behind him a corpus that defies all qualification: dozens of major edifices for the history of twentieth century architecture, buildings, houses, museum, cathedral, universities and factories, the whole world over, from Milan to Teheran, Caracas to Denver. Hundreds of models of objects and pieces of furniture, thousands of letters (…), hundreds of articles for the magazine Domus (…). A world of creation which made Ponti the legitimate heir of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance – by redesigning the contours of another possible world, poetic and practical, light and bright, vibrant, he embodied the continuity of a heritage that still fascinates us today, the Leonardo or Michelangelo in his field, from the overall whole down to the very last detail.
In 1978, Tony and Carla Bouilhet, who were there at his beginning with the commission for the Ange Volant (a post-Palladian villa in the Paris region), had begun to design a retrospective that was put on hold due to his death a year later, and if it had taken place, it quite normally would have been held in the nave of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Will we point out the museum’s major role in the organisation of the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925? An important date in Ponti’s life, because being awarded one of the main prizes, thanks to his contribution to the Italian Pavilion via the installation by the Richard Ginori manufactory, really got his international career off the ground.
In some ways, Paris brought Gio Ponti good luck, and he never forgot it. In 1973, working with the art critic Pierre Restany, François Mathey, director of the museum at that time, devoted an exhibition to Domus covering not less than forty-five years of an intellectual adventure that had shaped a large part of European modernity, as much a platform for inspiration as a place to encounter artistic talent: the list of partnerships that brought together the elite in the field of modern thought and contemporary creation is quite head spinning. By way of a thank-you, Gio Ponti drew an elegant hand on some of the museum’s headed writing paper, with slender fingers and his beautiful fluid handwriting flowing out of it: “Thank-you my friend for all that you and the museum have done for me and Domus, here’s to you Mathey i miei pensieri fraterni.” And so there are a great many threads that tie the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to Gio Ponti, like a long working partnership, episodic but faithful, from one decade to another. This timely exhibition renders unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to Ponti the place he deserves in the history of architecture, design and decorative arts, in short a major part of art history.
Here, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in this spirit of unity which was one of the permanent motifs of his vision, Gio Ponti comes face to face once again with the spirit of the place he loved and frequented. A place that represents both his close relationship with France and his influence on an international level. The feeling of seeing Gio Ponti return to the source of his art, coming back home.