Many experiences and projects bond us with Carlo Mollino. That is thanks to our friend Fulvio Ferrari, collector, design enthusiast and curator of Casa Mollino. This wonderful apartment was designed in the 1960s by grand designer Carlo Mollino himself.
This time, Ferrari guided us through the interior of the residence rife with legends and kept telling stories about this phenomenal designer, architect, pilot, skier, car racer and photographer.
Fulvio, where we are sitting right now?
We are in the new office of Casa Mollino in Turin. We are on the second floor above the original Casa Mollino. We got this space recently and it works as an archive, library and office for the museum of Casa Mollino, which consists of the original apartment Carlo Mollino designed for himself during the 1960s. It is a beautiful apartment building on Via Napione. From one side is the busy road with trams, from the other a beautiful rose garden and view of the river and the hills.
What did you do before you founded the museum here?
I did a lot of things in my life. I studied chemistry, before I was very interested in science as well as art and design. During the 1960s I had a company called Solka B specializing in producing experimental lamps. I also had a restaurant in Liguria, which I designed myself. After that I started to collect design and founded a gallery here in Turin in the mid-1980s. At the time, I was very involved in history of design and in 1980 I started to collect what we call Italian Design today. At the time, it was just past, out of fashion, forgotten. I was very fascinated to find some amazing pieces, prototypes, some crazy objects, like prototypes from Gufram, for example. At that time, I sold some of these pieces for shop windows just to attract visitors. There was not real collectible market at the time. I collected pieces that became very expensive afterwards. After some time, I received many clients coming from all over Europe to buy these pieces. I had the idea to make a collection to show what Italian design actually is, not through a book, but through the collection. In 1984, I sold this collection at Munich-based auction house Ketterer. It was the first time to see such a collection of Italian design from a historical perspective.
When did you become interested in Carlo Mollino?
My interest in Carlo Mollino started in the 1980s when I was a very good friend of architect Toni Cordero who was the first one re-discovering the fantastic world of Carlo Mollino, which was totally forgotten at that time. When he was still alive, Gio Ponti published many of his projects on pages of Domus, but when he died in 1973 everybody forgot him very quickly. Nobody was really interested in telling Mollino’s story. And after that Toni Cordero came and discovered his amazing work on the pages of old Domus magazines. He was a passionate collector of design furniture, so he asked me to find some Mollino’s pieces for his collection. In 1985, I opened my gallery, which was designed by Cordero. The first exhibition was dedicated to Carlo Mollino where I showed some of his unique designs, of course, many years later worth millions dollars. The Mollino’s photographs were also on display and nobody knew that he was a photographer too. Because he never spoke about photography during his life after he published his photography book Message from the Darkroom in 1949. I showed many photos of his women beautifully dressed, images of interiors and furniture. It was the first exhibition about Carlo Mollino after his death.
How did you discover all of these materials?
After Cordero commissioned me to find some Mollino’s pieces, I started to do my research. I spoke to many people, including Marquiz Orengo, for whom Mollino designed one of his best interiors, also with the artist and jewellery designer Ada Minola, a very rich woman and good friend of Mollino at the time. I understood that Mollino was not just an architect, but was very interesting from many different perspectives. I found out that he was an acrobatic pilot, photographer and many other things at the same time. This made me very intrigued to understand Mollino. For example, when you speak about Le Corbusier, he was an architect and painter. That’s it. Mollino was much, much more. When I discovered something new, every time it was out of order. For example, I discovered a letter from the chief of acrobatic patrol of the Italian state writing in 1962 to Mollino that he was the best acrobatic pilot in Italy. Can you imagine this? An architect is the best Italian acrobatic pilot? This was fascinating for me. Mollino is like an actor to do all the unusual things.
How was Mollino in real life?
He never socialized with rich people, who are usually potential clients. He was very rich and never worked only for money. But he really was not that guy who went out for beer or wine. And it was not really easy to discover these things, because Mollino tried to push people outside of his life. Some of his friends did not know that he was actually an architect. He was very mysterious in this way. The real Mollino is not easy to be understood, because his whole personal life is still behind the curtain. I think it was his life-long art project to present himself as he was not for real.
How did you find his apartment?
It was in the mid-1980s. I discovered the apartment through some contacts from a former old Mollino’s friend outside Turin. Between the death of Mollino and my acquisition, the apartment belonged to engineer Aldo Vandoni, who was working in the interior. He kept the original interior, but also added some new pieces. In 1999 I was able to buy the apartment including all the objects and belongings. So, with my son Napoleone we started to build the museum. With Vandoni we were able to reconstruct the apartment, buying back the original objects and furniture. We also added some belonging of Mollino’s friend Italo Cremona.
The apartment is a unique artwork that displays Mollino’s understanding of life. He designed it as a kind of autoportrait of himself.
How do you understand the design of the apartment?
What made the story very important is that through this apartment we were able to understand who actually Mollino was. The apartment is a unique artwork that displays Mollino’s understanding of life. He designed it as a kind of autoportrait of himself. There is no Mollino’s classic plywood furniture, there is none of his photos. Everything was designed by himself but in not so “Mollinian” way. He depicted his life through symbols. So everything represents something. He never wrote nor even said something about this interior. The most important key he left here is from the frontispiece of Message from the Darkroom book where is the symbol of the Egyptian queen Tiye. So the Message from the Darkroom could mean basically Message from the Egyptian Darkroom. With this we got a big help from the director of the Egyptian museum in Turin and we could understand this relation to ancient Egypt. We understood that the apartment is a project of a philosopher. Instead of writing a book or an article, Mollino designed an apartment. He wanted to write a book on Egypt, but instead he designed an apartment. He was very interested in the problem of our life and body. He believed that our life is our body and that the body is the materiality of the world. He believed that an architect has the materiality of the world in his hands, because he is able to cut a mountain and build a pyramid. He was trying to understand everything in life. He was an engineer and everything in his life is engineered, everything is a project.
Did Mollino have a woman?
In general, he was trying to understand how to make a feminine body so beautiful. Between the 1940s and 1950s he had his fiancé Carmelina Piccolis. She was a sculptor. He never took a photo of her naked or in underwear. It was a really serious relationship between two artists. I read some letters and the word kiss doesn’t appear there at all. It was built rather on a philosophical level. It was almost impossible to live with him, so he left his fiancé. His models never understood Mollino’s life. For example, he had one model Caterina Pistoi and he gave her an apartment which he designed for her. We can consider her a girlfriend. Mollino chose furniture and then designed just her kitchen and dining table. He actually designed a copy of an ordinary and boring Italian kitchen of the 1960s. Why did he design just these very modest pieces for her even though he liked her? Because he knew that this model was not able to recognize the artistic depth of his experimental plywood furniture designed for intellectual and rich clients. You see how clear Mollino’s brain was.
The goal of Mollino is to be novel every time.
Can you compare this apartment with his famous interiors of the 1940s and 1950s? What is the difference?
When he was designing apartments for Ada Minola, Marquiz Orengo and other clients, he always created a world for a particular person. He wanted intellectually-shining apartments. When you enter Mollino’s apartment, you feel as if you are in an apartment of some old count wit old furniture, old carpets, Japanese objects etc. It is a mix you can’t really understand. Nothing looks like Mollino. It is totally different from his other apartments for clients. Mollino always does something totally different and new. For example, buildings of Teatro Regio and Chamber of Commerce in Turin. Both are from the same period and completely different. One of them is an amazing technological, almost high-tech structure, the other is a symbol of the feminine body. It is like technology versus fantasy and dreams. The goal of Mollino is to be novel every time.
How did you open Casa Mollino as a museum?
We started it with my son Napoleone. The project came from two different perspectives. It is a very good mix. From the beginning, we thought it would be most interesting to keep the museum a little bit outside of the classical vision of museums. We didn’t want to organise tours or so. We are open only by appointment. I think it is a good way. We have met very interesting people, mostly architects and photographers who publish about Casa Mollino all around the world, but really. It was almost everywhere in the design world.
How does the museum operate today?
After six or seven years, we started to sell tickets to some visitors, except for some very interesting guests that are really passionate and inspired by Mollino. Since then we have had much more artists than architects visiting. The world of art is feeling the complexity of Mollino very well. So like 80 percent of our visitors are from the art world. We have had amazing visitors including Ed Ruscha, Robert Wilson, Juergen Teller, Samantha Roddick, Chris Dercon, Blonde Redhead, Patty Smith and many others.
For example Robert Wilson visits us very often, just to dream and relax. Also Toni Cordero used to visit us just to sit on the bench and get inspired by the atmosphere. Sometimes he slept here. The place is so comfortable that you lose yourself and sometimes you suddenly fall asleep. We usually spend two hours with the guests. They are attracted by the legend of Mollino and they actually don’t know what they are about to explore. They are mostly very surprised.
What are some recent projects of Casa Mollino?
We do many things around, including exhibitions, books and some art projects. We do a small exhibition at 10 Corso Como in Milan during Salone del Mobile every year. We are trying to make people interested in Mollino with all our projects. We are sometimes invited by some museums to do some exhibitions, for example at Nottingham Contemporary, Italian Cultural Institute in Paris, Haus der Kunst in Munich. We have also produced bottles of red wine with Mollino label. As an experiment, we did a project with psychologist and medium Albania Tomassini who made me talk to Mollino. The work, still in progress, was filmed in September 2014 for only 30 minutes by Yuri Ancarani and presented as an art video titled Séance. It was screened at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 2015 during the festival Cinéma du Réel.
Interview & text: Adam Štěch
Text edit: Helena Kardová
Photo: Matěj Činčera, Jan Kloss
Video: Jan Rybák