Bruno Munari

Bruno Munari

(1907 – 1998)

LITERATURE: Bruno Munari: Opere, 1930-1986 exh. cat., ed. M. Meneguzzo and T. Quirico; Milan, Palazzo Reale, 1986
A. Tanchis. Bruno Munari: Design as Art Cambridge, MA, 1987
Source: MoMA NY and

Born in Milan in 1907, Bruno Munari’s work has spanned the entire twentieth-century. He has been a driving force in visual arts and the non-visual arts, as his work was not limited to one medium, and he frequently published his theories, as well as his poetry. He was also fascinated with games, and designed several for children.

Munari’s artistic ambition was influenced by Filippo Tommaso Marinett, whom he met in Milan in the mid-1920s. Munari formally allied himself with the second generation of Futurists in 1927, and continued to exhibit with them into the 1930s. Few works of Munari’s remain from this period, as most were made from transient materials. One extant work in tempera from 1932 (see Tanchis, p. 13) suggests that Munari had fully adopted Futurist aesthetics. Several other examples from the 1930s, however, show a clear debt to Surrealism.

In his sculpture from1930, Munari adopted a different attitude. Aerial Machine (1930; see Tanchis, p. 21), for example, indicates a move towards a Constructivist aesthetic. This elegant object is a precursor of his Useless Machines, the first of which was executed in 1933. Constructed of painted cardboard and other lightweight materials, they served to liberate abstract forms into three dimensions. Moreover, they were meant to integrate with the surrounding environment through their kinetic action.

After World War II, Munari concentrated on industrial design. An early example is X Hour (1945; see Tanchis, pp. 72-3), an alarm clock with rotating half-discs in lieu of hands. In 1963, as part of an effort to bring the best in design to the Italian public, X Hour was produced in multiples. Other objects by Munari that were not strictly utilitarian were also mass-produced, such as the Flexy (1968; see 1986 exh. cat., pp. 82-3), a flexible metal wire structure that could be set in any number of positions. After 1949, Munari began to investigate Gestalt theory through a series of experimental works entitled Negative Positive, in which he attempted to achieve absolute parity between figure and ground. In Negative Positive (1950; see Tanchis, p. 55), for example, the areas of dark and light are equal.

As early as the 1930s, Munari had been trying out radical innovations in graphics and typography, but it was not until after World War II that he began to design and produce book-objects. His childrens books were simple, provocative learning tools. His books for adults, on the other hand, were useless objects, Unreadable Books, which were meant to challenge the very concept of a book. In 1950, Munari began to experiment with light projection through colored plastic to create colored-light compositions. The use of polarized light, special lenses and motorization enabled him to achieve more complex and variable results and led to the production of his first colored-light film, I colori della luce (1963) with electronic music.

The principle of public access to the means of visual communication was very important to Munari, who believed anyone could produce objects of aesthetic value, given the proper technological advantages. Following this principle, in 1964 Munari began to install photocopiers at exhibition sites, including the Central Pavilion of the 35th Venice Biennale in 1970.

With this intensive research on design and visual experimenting goes a constant and fertile activity in editoria graphics, displays and essays. Design and Visual Communication (1968), Art as a craft (1966), Artist and Designer (1971), Obvious Code (1971) are among his most important writings.

Munari received prizes and awards from all over the world: the Japan Design Foundation Prize (1985), the Lego Prize for his remarkable contribution to develop children’s creativity (1986), the one from the Academy of the Lincei for the graphics (1988), the Spiel Gut Award of Ulm (1971, 1973, 1987) and, in 1989, the honorary degree in Architecture at the University of Genoa.