If Indian designers have been plagued by questions on what is Indian design, Italians too have been asking themselves just that. A few years ago, they found a way to explore the idea through “The Seven Obsessions of Italian Design”, an exhibition at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan. From the sacred luxury of the Byzantines to Pompeii and objects of contemporary theatre, democratic design to futuristic instability, these explorations were the start to many more editions at the Museum. Giorgio Galleani, Head, Italian Design Collections and Archives, at the museum, was in Delhi as part of a country tour. The 48-year-old spoke about design museums, India’s relevance on the global scene and the shift away from patronage. Excerpts from an interview:
What is your role at the Triennale Design Museum, seen both as a scientific and emotional space?
I am the conservator of the collections at the museum and I help external curators create exhibitons. I try and create a bridge between the past and the present. Our exhibitions are based around themes. The most recent one is “W.Women in Italian Design”. The story is told through the metaphor of a river that runs through the whole of the 20th century.
How does a product become part of the collection? And why are design museums important?
It’s usually about memory and what it means to people. For instance, when people see the Graziella bicycle, it’s an instant recall, it takes you back to your childhood. Everybody in Italy has some association with it. Of course, we also have products in our collection that is based on science and shows how industries have developed. Museums tell your story, they also present a point of view about your culture.
In the nine years of its existence, tell us about an exhibition that you found interesting?
There have been several but for a travelling exhibition on New Italian Design, we presented products on a conveyor belt, like at a sushi bar. There were these tiny objects that were placed on plates, Federico Fellini’s movie clips playing on a loop and circus music in the background. We collected these products with the help of experts from the fields of fashion, industrial design and product design. One such object was this bird feeder, which comes with an integrated wooden pusher. Once you’ve eaten your bread, you can brush the crumbs right off the table into the box and place it by the window to serve it up for the birds.
Do you advocate patronage to promote design these days?
We don’t believe in patrons. Today, those who have the money won’t give you something without telling you how to do it. At the Triennale Design Museum, we often have manufacturers who want their products to be displayed because then they use it as an advertisement. We don’t put any such products on display.
Do you think India’s time for a design museum has come?
Of course! In India, when you have a problem, and need a solution, everyone has a different answer. The idea of the design museum must start from here. Look at all the solutions that people have given in the last 50 years to a problem and how they have solved it. After this, you can start to create your style and identity. The ability to do this is your biggest strength and what the world needs.