Triennale Milano


What is about Italy and design? If you study the history of graphic or industrial design, not to mention contemporary art, it almost looks like just about everything came from Italy – especially during the Twentieth century. That’s not so far from truth either, but there are reasons for it. Milan’s Triennale is the go-to place to learn them, and one of the world’s greatest experiences in these fields.
The Triennale di Milano is at the same time the name of a foundation, of its museum and of the exhibitions it produces. It was founded in 1923 in Monza, near Milan, but it soon moved to the bustling northern city to introduce the world to an international exhibition about Italian excellency in modern art and industrial design.  As the name implies, such exhibitions have been since replicated every three years, each time with a different theme and featuring more and more foreign contributions. The next one is going to be in 2016, and its theme will be “design after design” – which is a fancy way of saying that it will focus on the interactions between design and technology and society.

This is in fact the underlying theme of all Triennale’s work, celebrated in its building in the center of Milan, right next to the majestic Sforzesco castle and the Torre Branca, a 110 m tall structure that offers the best vintage point over the city. The Triennale building is home to a permanent design museum – one of the largest and best in the world – that was conceived as a holistic experience, featuring surprising items such as a rainbow bridge, dizzying perspective tricks and more.
The same building commonly hosts three or four additional exhibitions focusing on the relationships between art, design and daily life. Among the four hundred-plus themes featured so far there have been shows about movie and stage costumes, sex toys, kitchen tools, high-tech materials and much more. Keeping the theme of discovery, the Triennale experience also offers its visitors lots of unexpected surprises large and small.

Take the bar, for example: it is also a reading lounge where dozens of rare design and photography books are free to peruse, but if you look carefully you will notice that none of its chairs are the same – simply because they constitute a very practical exhibition about the design evolution of such a commonplace item. Or follow a staircase, and you will pop up in an underground theatre where conferences and shows are held, aided by some of the most complex and innovative stage machinery in the world.
The outdoor café on the back of the museum is another example. It features many famous sculptures you are encouraged to use as your table, lounge chair or monkey cage for your kids – and it overlooks the Bagni misteriosi complex by De Chirico, one whimsical creation (about a surreal seaside resort) by a master of stark and creepy surrealistic urbanism.

The citizens of Milan understandably consider the Triennale a popular spot to spend a few pleasant hours at a time, knowing that they will always find something interesting there. Some occasions however are of course more appealing than others. Among them there is theCompasso d’oro (golden compass) yearly award for design excellence, or the open days of theBiblioteca del progetto – a fourteen-thousands strong library of rare design publications.
The 2016 edition of the Triennale show will again change the rules, however. Given the enormous quantity of items and sub-exhibitions planned, it will occupy much more than its institutional building. In fact, it is going to overlap and merge with the equally huge Milan Furniture Fair, taking over more than one hundred different locations in town. Once again, exploration will be the name of the game.