Bruno Munari, The Man and his ‘Useless Machines’

If you’re a designer of any sort you’ve probably come across or have even read a book titled ‘Design as Art’, written by Bruno Munari. I purchased this book many years ago now and his thoughts and words have stayed with me, in fact it’s still sitting on my shelf today and I often refer back to it for inspiration. If you don’t know about Bruno he’s one of the most inspirational designers to have lived in my opinion, Picasso once said that he was ‘the Leonardo of our time’ and through his body of work you can really see why. Munari’s interdisciplinary range is pretty mind boggling, he was a painter, critic, draftsman, poet, designer, theoretician, philosopher, graphic designer, inventor, and creator of three-dimensional forms. He insisted that design be beautiful, functional and accessible, books like ‘Design as Art’ give us a deeper understanding of his thoughts regarding visual, graphic and industrial design and the role it plays in the use of everyday objects.

So today I thought I’d pinpoint some interesting imagery which showcases some of Bruno Munari’s art, in particular his ‘useless machines’ which expressed a radically different understanding of technology and its function in the modern age. Although linked to the Futurism movement at the time, this work saw quite a step away and was more inline with the other major trends such as Russian Constructivism or the Bauhaus. These were hanging objects in the style of Man Ray’s famous lampshade, Munari thought that instead of painting squares, triangles and other geometric forms which still had a realistic feel, why not free abstract forms from static paintings and suspend them in the air, joining them together so they might inhabit the environment with us.

With the “useless machines”, he was interested in exploring the time-space continuum, how to make a work of art that could interact with the environment and change accordingly. To make art that is truly dynamic, so in a sense Munari is one of the first in Europe to make kinetic art, something which became a dominant trend worldwide in the 50’s and 60’s. What’s interesting about these sculptures is that they were built with very light materials like paper, thin wooden sticks and silk threads. Although they may look like something Calder might of produced, Munari said his were quite different and that Calder’s were “organic” in inspiration and possessed the same structure as a tree, where as his were structural and geometrical in principle.

What I personally like about Munari is that he just wanted to try things out and experiment, of wanting to know as much as possible, this is key to his work I think. He experimented with so many things that he became his own, something completely different to anything else out there. He also loved to work with materials and with the tools of an artisan, I read once before in a book that he liked the texture of wood and the smell of varnish, this to me is a true creative as it shows he got hands on and went through all the proper motions a designer should. Hopefully this imagery above and below should give you an idea of what his artwork was like, the man himself, also his studio, which is quite inspiring to say the least. One place that I’ll definitely be visiting in September is the Bruno Munari exhibition at the Estorick in London, if you’re around you should pop along because they’ll be exploring the roots of his work and the development years. Extremely interesting.


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