Flessibili Splendori: Columbus and the tubular furniture
curated by Alessandra Bassi
Opening Wednesday 25 September, 6.30 pm
From 26.09 to 9.11.2019
Columbus continuum: 100 years of a steel manufactory in Milan, is the title of a series of exhibitions and activities, which will develop over the course of one year, displaying one hundred years of Columbus, an Italian metallurgical company specialized in the production and processing of metal tubing in its various applications. The 4 exhibitions will take place at Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea gallery, a 20-years-point of reference in Milan for contemporary figurative art, founded by Antonio Colombo in 1998.
Over the course of a hundred year, the company – founded by Angelo Luigi Colombo in 1919 in Lambrate – has developed various processes related to metallurgy and produced finished products in many different fields, from transport vehicles to furniture.
In order to narrate the many stories composing this unique entrepreneurial scenario, related to the founder himself and the son Antonio Colombo, four exhibitions have been planned, to set and show the company from four different perspectives and industries: tubular furniture; steel series for bicycle frames; the great innovation and research content of the company that lead it to collaborate to amazing goals and achievements (from airplanes to cars and riding machines); the constant focus on art and design.
Today Antonio Colombo’s activity continues in the world of cycling, with the brands Columbus, which produces steel tubes and carbon forks for bicycles, and Cinelli, manufacturer of high-end frames and components for bicycles.
The first exhibition Flessibili splendori: Columbus and the tubular furniture, curated by Alessandra Bassi, with an exhibition set-up by Franco Raggi, is dedicated to the creation of metal tube furniture started by A.L. Colombo’s company in 1933 and ended in the immediate post-war period.
This production begins with the acquisition of the exclusive license for the Italian manufacturing of the tubular furniture made by the Zurich company Wohnbedarf, which had developed models with many architects, such as Alvar Aalto, Sigfried Giedion, Werner Moser, Alfred Roth or Flora Steiger, but above all with Marcel Breuer who from the mid-twenties had designed with tubular steel at the Bauhaus.
Columbus creates, on license, “original” furniture with the specialized quality competence in the manufacturing of the steel tube, which is the result of a mechanical process that requires a deep handcraft expertise and ability.
Therefore it’s not by chance that the architect Giuseppe Terragni – and before him Giuseppe Pagano, for the design of a popular umbrella stand – turned to Columbus for metallic tube furniture of the Como buildings of the second half of the Thirties, such as the Casa del Fascio or the Sant’Elia nursery school. Armchair and chair, with the characteristic springy cantilevered frame, adopted in both architectures, were produced in small “industrial” series.
Among the Italian designers, another prestigious Columbus collaboration was the one with Piero Bottoni, during the VI Triennale di Milano in 1936, where for the waiting room of a dental practice different solutions for armchairs based on an original elastic crossing are tested.
Columbus’ is an important story in the history of Italian design, well preserved and re-built thanks to the meritorious will of Antonio Colombo, son of Angelo Luigi, who wanted to create the Columbus Archive, encouraging studies, publications (the volume Flessibili splendori. Il mobile in tubolare metallico. Il caso Columbus, Electa, 1998), initiatives and exhibitions. Such as those ones occurring this year, 2019, in the occasion of the centennial of the foundation of his father’s company.
The Columbus Archive represents a unicum in the world: a well safeguarded heritage, made up of hundreds of original furnishings, designs and drawings, catalogues and advertisement – both from the company and competitors, revealing a universal curiosity towards the world as a whole – wooden molds for production and dozens of thousands of documents. A business archive, active since the mid-Nineties, which testifies of the vitality of certain advanced entrepreneurship in Italy, the merge of capabilities of R&D, dialogue with the project, and an appropriate and visionary cultural substance.
Following, starting in November, three other exhibitions: the first aims to highlight the crucial contribution of Columbus to the evolution of professional cycling, result of the manufacturing of special steel tubes devoted to the production of excellent bicycles for champions such as Coppi, Anquetil, Gimondi, Ritter, Merckx, Moser… alongside with the role that Columbus plays in the contemporary international renaissance of steel and new makers, apprentices of the historic frame builders, who are giving a brand new life to steel frames.
The second sets Columbus within the wider scenario of the history of Italian entrepreneurship: the life of the company retraced through the key stages of its production, such as the in-depth studies on metallurgy, as shown by products, patents and technical solutions.
The third and last exhibition investigates the deep relationship among Columbus, Cinelli, bicycles and art.