By Francesco Carelli Professor Family Medicine, Milan and Rome



Munari’s aesthetic develop from his initial Futurist phase (around 1927) to the post-war period (up to 1950) when, as one of the founders of the Movimento Arte Concreta, beccame a point of reference for a new generation of Italian artists. His pioneering work exerted an influence that stretched far beyond the borders of his native country; he was one of the most complex, creative and multi-faceted figures of Italian 20th century art.

Bruno Munari was born in Milan in 1907, and lived and worked there until 1998, the year of his death. He began his career within the Futurist movement and was considered  by F. T. Marinetti  to be one of its most promising young exponents. From the very beginning, he was concerned with exploring the possibility of representing  painting  spatially through  a continuous flow of forms rendered mutable  through the incorporation  of a temporal  dimension, in  accordance with the theories of  Giacomo Balla  and Fortunato Depero in their 1915 Manifesto ‘Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe’.

Munari described the roots of his work as his ‘Futurist past’, and the movement’s ambitious scope certainly informed his kaleidoscopic career, leading him to work across a range of media and disciplines from painting to photomontage, sculpture, graphics, film and art theory. Indeed, his influences were extremely varied, also reflecting the aesthetics and sensibilities of movements such as Constructivism, Dada, and Surrealism.

In 1930,  he began designing his Useless Machines – the first ‘mobiles’ in the history of  Italian art – the aim  of which was to liberate abstract painting from its static nature  by employing the principle of causality introduced by the use of air as a force of  movement for  the suspended parts. The paradoxical name was intended to be a reflection on the usefulness of the useless (art) and the uselessness of the useful (machines), creating a distinction between his personal aesthetic and that of ‘orthodox’  Futurism,  with  its fascination with roaring machinery and its uncritical attitude towards progress.

In Paris in 1946, he created his first spatial environment entitled Concave-convex, based once again  around  a hanging  object made of  metallic mesh carefully moulded in such a way as to recall certain forms studied in topology, such as the Möbius strip. This was installed in semi-darkness and illuminated by spotlights thereby generating  shadows and reflections,  many of  which recall the moiré patterns of certain kinetic paintings of the 1960s.  Along with the spatial environments of Lucio Fontana, the Concave-convex represents one of the first installations in the history of modern European art.

During the 1920s and ‘30s Munari acted as a consultant or art director for such important magazines as L’Ala d’Italia, La rivista illustrata del Popolo d’Italia, Natura, La lettura,  L’almanacco  letterario  Bompiani, Tempo and Domus, and for the publicity projects of companies such as Campari, Snia Viscosa, Pirelli, Olivetti and Agip.

Towards the end of the 1940s, together with Atanasio Soldati, Gianni Monnet, Gillo Dorfles, Galliano Mazzon  and others,  Munari  founded the M.A.C. (Movimento Arte Concreta or Concrete Art Movement) in Milan. This movement acted as a catalyst for Italian abstraction, giving rise to a ‘synthesis of arts’ capable of complementing traditional painting with new tools of communication and able to demonstrate the possibility of a convergence between art and technology, creativity and functionality, in an industrial context.

During the 1950s,  he created  the series of  Negative-positives, abstract compositions in  which the classic dualism between the  figure and  the background vanishes  due to a visual perception made unstable by the lack of an edge or boundaries within the composition. In 1950, he continued to explore the notion of painting with light, arriving  at the process of dematerialising  art through the use of projection slides in works known as Direct Projections. The artist created compositions with cheap materials  or debris  such as  coloured  and  transparent  plastic, organic elements and cotton threads, which were sandwiched between two glass surfaces. The compositions  thus created  were  projected  not only indoors but also outdoors, on the façades of buildings, giving them a feeling of monumentality.

In 1951,  he created  the series of Arrhythmic Machines, the  irregular movements of which  were generated through  the use  of springs. In 1953,  he discovered, for the first time  in history, how  to  break the light  spectrum  through a Polaroid  lens in a continuum given by the rotating movement of a polarising filter applied to a slide projector.   The Polaroid Projects were born as logical continuations of, and theoretical complements to, the research that led to the creation of his Direct Projections.

Munari’ last years of life were dedicated to study plurisensorial experience in children,  when they are  in  Zen area, when they meet reality by playing. All sensorial receptors are open to get data: to see, to touch, to taste, to perceive warmness, coldness, weight, lightness, smooth and hard, rough and flat, forms, distances, light , sound and silence, all is now, all can be learned and play facilitates memory. After that, we become to be adult,  we enter in ” the society ” , one by one all sensorial receptors are closing.   We learn  near nothing more, we use only sense and word and we ask to ourselves:  how much cost ?  what is this for ? how much can I get form this ? and in his books for children he indicates a pedagogic method now continued in schools by his son , through a Foundation.