Di Rossella Romito
Who said that art cannot be a leader of an industrial success? To the more skeptical ones we could tell a story, known to most people, which began in 1932 in Ivrea, near Turin. After his father Camillo, Adriano Olivetti was running the family business – Olivetti effectively – and until 1960 led a remarkable process of modernization and organization of work, with an emphasis on experimentation and innovation, and paying at the same time great attention to communication and products aesthetics.
The businessman called young employees to work for graphics and industrial design as Marcello Nizzoli, Xanti Schawinsky, Giovanni Pintori and, later, Ettore Sottsass and Mario Bellini. They brought as expertise the most original and prolific of those years. The Swiss Schawinsky – for example – had participated in the experience of Bauhaus in Dessau and in 1933 became active part of the Studio Boggeri of Milan, where he worked in advertising campaigns great resonance for Motta and Cinzano. Between the forties and fifties, Olivetti marketed some products destined to become objects of worship, as the typewriter Lexikon 80 (1948) or the portable Letter 22 (1950): pieces that since then have become part of collective imagination like fragments of our history and travel companion, thanks to the posters created for a communication effective and exploited to its full potential.
The work ethic and the listening to the needs of employees are other fundamental aspects of the impression that Adriano Olivetti wanted to give to a social project implemented in his factory to create a balance between social solidarity and profit. In this area are located facilities such as kindergartens, libraries, the “Mensa Olivetti” by Ignazio Gardella (1954) or the “Range of social services” designed by Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini (1954-1957). Still in those years, namely in 1952, the French writer and philosopher Simone Weil published The Condition of the Factory Workers with Edizioni di Comunità, a publishing house founded by Adriano Olivetti in 1946, at a time of great moral confusion and high hopes for society, in order to contribute to the cultural revival of post-war Italy.
A sort of Renaissance patron a little bit in late for history? Or maybe too in early? Certainly Adriano Olivetti was an illuminated and multifaceted businessman and has given birth to a legend, the same that is now starring in a chapel of the church of the Abbey of Valserena in Parma, which is home to the Research Archives Center of Communication (CSAC). Here the production for industry is exposed, through materials from the archives of many artists and designers, as exemplary case of that inter-disciplinarity between the different disciplines that has enabled success both cultural and industrial Olivetti‘s success. And close to the space dedicated to Olivetti, there are testimonies of another revolutionary figure, in this case for Italian fashion, the designer Walter Albini, one of the fathers of the ready to wear, able to act as a bridge between the studio and the factory.
Paintings, sculptures, design objects, photographs, posters and advertising sketches, films, video-tapes and fashion designs: the heritage of the CSAC has twelve million works, six hundred of which make up the exhibition path opened to the public and divided by subject – almost “Art Rooms” in constant dialogue – in the ancient church. A dress of sequins, a calculator, a painting and a sculpture are placed side by side without gender hierarchies, but as artistic products of the same level: another lesson for the skeptics, after the story of a man of vision.
Read more: www.csacparma.it
Cover: Marcello Nizzoli, Manifesto for Olivetti Lexikon, detail, s.d. (1949), Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, University of Parma.