Gianfranco Frattini: ieri, oggi, domani is a gratifying exhibition for architect and designer Emanuela Frattini Magnussen, daughter of the late Gianfranco Frattini, a visionary known for shaping the Italian Design Movement through his prolific collaborations with Cassina, Artemide, and Knoll, among others. Held at the Palazzo Arese Borromeo in Cesano Maderno, a small town north of Milan, the show establishes a striking contrast between the venue’s 17th-century frescos and the designer’s “very pure and rigorous designs,” nodding to his professional regional ties, Frattini Magnussen told AN.
The decision to hold the month-long showcase in the province of Brianza connects the exhaustive collections to their roots, as Fratitini forged his earliest creations here working with craftsmen and artisans throughout his 50-year career. First a student of Gio Ponti, he then met Cesare Cassina, where he continued to develop Cassina’s aesthetic of Italian modernism through a bevy of furniture pieces like nesting tables, the Mod. 849 lounge chair, walnut dining chairs, and later, the Sesann Series. In 1956, he cofounded the ADI (the Association for Industrial Design) and continued to practice both industrial design and architecture that brought sleek Italian style to the forefront until his death in 2004. “He was a firm believer in the importance of a symbiotic relationship between design and industry, and in a direct relationship between the designer and the decision maker on the production side,” Frattini Magnussen said.
Although this exhibition focuses mostly on product design, it offers a glimpse into the breadth of the maestro’s work, which his daughter believes “moved between different scales with an enviable fluidity,” transcending the barriers of time and beauty. Period pieces from collectors and modern re-editions, as well as a selection of sketchbooks and reproductions of original drawings thanks to a partnership with CSAC (Study Center and Communications Archive of the University of Parma and the Milan Politecnico University), are on display. Items designed for Acerbis, Ceccotti, Poltrona Frau, Tacchini—as well as the 62-piece collection Frattini Magnussen did for CB2—pair with light fixtures from Arteluce, Artemide, FontanaArte, Gubi, and Luci.
One stand-out contribution is the famed Boalum lamp, designed in 1970 with Livia Castiglioni, which reflects the spirit of the era but remains relevant for designers today. The snakelike object, fashioned from translucent PVC and resin, make it a durable, unique, and flexible piece that emits diffused light. Frattini’s focus on beauty is something Frattini Magnussen only understood later in life. “It had nothing to do with luxury. He had a fundamentally functionalist approach.” That functional approach continues to inspire to this day.
Research from two students from the Politecnico di Milano, Susanna Beatrice Lubiana and Benedetta Patella, about Frattini’s interior design projects is also on view. Eight case studies were chosen, ranging from villas to minimalist apartments, and will be reconstructed down to their furnishings for their thesis presentation in July. Furthermore, a reinterpretation of his work comes to life in textile-clad accordion doors from Torri Lana and Dooor with the participation of Frattini Magnussen.
“We are opening a window onto how his work is present in today’s reality for collectors and for anyone who loves his designs, keeping it alive for a new generation that continues to live with his creations—as he would have wanted. He would be (secretly) proud,” she said. Gianfranco Frattini: ieri, oggi, domani is on view at the Palazzo Arese Borromeo through May 14.