As part of Ikea’s Artist in Residence Programme, Annie Leibovitz will spend 2023 travelling the globe to capture how people live in their homes
Until 30 April 2023, the Flexform Milano showroom in Via della Moscova is hosting a mainly black-and-white photography exhibition celebrating the company’s history. The show – ‘Portraying Design, Celebrating Tradition & Innovation’, coinciding with Milan Design Week 2023 – makes a deliberate choice of black and white photography to highlight the Flexform designs’ production detail, craftsmanship, and shapes. The images are an opportunity to engage with the company’s heritage – just as you would with a family through their photo albums.
The large-scale reproductions on backlit panels are primarily distributed chronologically throughout the space, which is lit by large windows. The visitor is thus guided through a selection of advertising campaigns, as well as photos and products by the designers who have contributed to the evolution of the company’s brand identity from the 1980s to 2023.
Flexform photography show revisits defining design moments and celebrates the new
The exhibition starts with a stunning photograph taken by the legendary late Milanese photographer Gabriele Basilico, featuring the ‘Max’ sofa by Antonio Citterio, with its distinctive organic forms, kidney-bean-shaped seat cushion, and spiral backrest.
The ‘Max’ celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and Flexform presents the new ‘Supermax’ – a revisit of the design by Citterio, with more generous and contemporary proportions. Here, the company puts the new sofa in dialogue with the original, as well as Basilico’s campaign from 1983: the photographer managed to insert the sofa within the characteristic architecture of the Triennale di Milano museum, a large staircase in the background, emphasising shapes and spirals.
It’s not just Basilico. From the 1980s to the 2000s, the brand’s narrative was displayed through deeply evocative, strictly black-and-white ad campaigns shot by master photographers such as Gianni Berengo Gardin, Giovanni Gastel, Gian Paolo Barbieri, Maria Vittoria Backhaus, Fabrizio Ferri, and Mario Ciampi. The large windows also allow passers-by to take a look, and be drawn in by a glimpse of Gianni Berengo Gardin’s evocative take on ‘Soft Dream’ sofa from 2011, for example (pictured top).
Backhaus’ photographs are powerful and vaguely mysterious. Her 1999 shot dedicated to the ‘A.B.C’ armchair (1996) is a surprise: two women looking at each other through intensely made-up eyes, in an artificial pose that emphasises the armchair’s square structure – it’s one of the few campaigns devoted entirely to an armchair for a brand whose core business remains sofas.
A 9m corridor follows, with six images of ‘Groundpiece’ (from 2001 to 2022) and numerous sets open to interpretation. The idea is to narrate the story of a piece that reshaped the game at the time when sofas still had precise limited functions and rigid stylistic features. ‘Groundpiece’ pioneered the transition to a piece that can now satisfy not only conversations, but also sleeping, working, eating, and playing needs.
We begin with Basilico, who created a dialogue with the piece’s details and the prominent features of Palazzo Pirelli, all steel and windows. We end with the dreamlike, and colourful style of Pierpaolo Ferrari: a woman dressed in blue floats gracefully at what seems the end of a tea dinner, a small party – or a dream.
This colourful note brings us up to date. Current Flexform art director Christoph Radl invited Pierpaolo Ferrari to bring his wry, irreverent eye, and colourful, vivid interpretations to the company’s campaigns: the family album keeps expanding.
‘Portraying Design, Celebrating Tradition & Innovation’
Until 30 April 2023 (10 am – 9 pm)
Flexform Flagship Store
Via della Moscova 33