When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life.

Bruno Munari

Bruno Munari's 'Useless Machines'

“A useless machine that does not represent anything is the perfect device through which we can easily revive our imagination, afflicted daily by useful machines.” —Bruno Munari

Driven by the conviction that “art is continual research,” Italian polymath Bruno Munari (1907 – 1998) adopted a stance towards art and invention that seemed both cantankerous and endlessly joyful. Dubbed “one of the most autonomous and extraordinary figures of the last century” by curator Alberto Salvadori, Munari worked across disciplines with little regard for convention. His fluid approach led to forays through photography and design, Xerography, collage, sculpture, artist and children’s books, writing, political performance, and pedagogy. Among his myriad influences were Dadaism; Surrealism; Italian Futurism, and the Bauhaus — but he was disciple to none.

Exemplifying Munari’s serious playfulness are his Macchina inutili, or “useless machines,” sculptural works put forth to counter daily drudgery and mechanized routine. “The motion of a useless machine,” Munari wrote, “must be the heart of the construction, the vital point.” Munari designed this iteration, produced in an edition of 250 over a span of 14 years by Galleria Sincron, to hang from the ceiling and be gazed upon while interacting with its surroundings. “[Useless machines] find their motors in natural phenomena,” Munari explained, “such as air currents, changes of temperature, humidity, light and shadow, etc., assuming a living aspect.” In imbuing his machine (even a so-called useless one) with a life of its own, Munari used an economy of materials to gently prod at the very nature of beauty, form, and function.

Bruno Munari

A prolific artist, writer, inventor, architect, illustrator, and titan of design, Bruno Munari is known as one of the greatest protagonists of 20th century art, design, and graphics. Born in Milan, he spent much of his childhood and teenage years in the quaint and rural town of Badia Polesine; this exposure to both city and country life would later become fundamental in the development of his aesthetic. In 1927 at the age of 20, Munari became involved with the Futurist movement, embarking on an over seven-decade-long career which would leave an indelible imprint on the design world.

The Futurists’ focus on progress and modernity was fertile ground for the young Munari, who desired to develop new modes of visual communication. During his association with the Futurist movement, he worked as a graphic designer and an art director, began designing children’s books, and developed his Macchina aerea (Aerial Machine) and Macchine inutili (Useless Machines) both of which exhibited his unique ability to blur the lines between machines, art, and utility. Following World War II, Munari broke with the Futurists due to their proto-Fascist leanings and in 1948 he founded Movimento Arte Concreta (M.A.C.), the Italian movement for concrete art, with Gillo Dorfles, Gianni Monnet and Atanasio Soldati. Over the next decade, prior to the disbanding of M.A.C. in 1958, Munari explored kinetic art, experimented with polarized light, produced several films, and designed countless objects for Italian design companies such as Danese Milano.

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