Evolution of a Design

Gio Ponti's Lattice Tables

Many of Gio Ponti’s most exuberant and noteworthy individual designs were created for private commissions. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing throughout his career, Ponti enjoyed a healthy number of commissions supported by visionary collectors and businesses. These experiences provided both the funding and creative outlet for Ponti’s most inventive designs. Each commission, and furniture included within represented his acute attention to the visual field and his evolving design ideology.

Ponti’s creative process within a commission began with a series of prototypes, and he often revisited a form over a number of years or decades. The continued explorations of individual designs illustrate the artist’s insatiable creativity and constant patterns of inquiry and study.

In the mid-1930s, Ponti designed a coffee table with intricate lattice construction for a small number of significant residential commissions. The sophisticated and complex form had a tectonic presence, yet the openwork imbued each with a relative weightlessness. Separately, the top with an interplay of volumes and voids created a dynamic sculptural statement. The intricate lattice aesthetic became a repeated motif that he explored in the 1930s through the 1950s.

The present lot is an early lattice form table featuring vesica piscis, or almond-shaped, latticework. As an architect and designer, Ponti’s forms embodied the era in which he worked. Initial variations of this table form appeared as early as 1932. Details such as the tapered leg illustrate the rich neo-classical inspiration that dominated Ponti’s designs of the 1930s. As an artist, he was able to elegantly incorporate classical materials, such as richly figured woods with sleek modern resources like glass and metal. Ponti included variants of this table in several important commissions including the Cantoni Family residence in Montova (1935), Casa La Porte (1935), and Casa Borletti (1936) in Milan. Each subtle variation in scale, material and form further developed the elegant expressions within this classically-inspired form. This table encapsulates the grandeur of Ponti’s design vision of the 1930s.

Coffee table for Matteo Ponti, a later production example of a 1930s design; Custom coffee table from Via Dezza 49, 1954

As the want for furniture grew in the late 1940s, Ponti’s designs in the postwar era continued his search for unity and cohesion in an era of change. He introduced a number of re-interpretations of his earlier 1930s designs. Ponti was distinctly more innovative in this later period incorporating new materials and commanding modern aesthetics. A closely related square-shaped table was created for the remarkable house designed for Anala and Armando Planchart in Caracas, Venezuela. This commission remains one of the most significant within Ponti’s career. Ponti was unparalleled in his grasp of pace and change within an era, and this table vividly shows the evolution into his 1950s aesthetic. The neo-classical references from the 1930s are gone, and the period’s embrace of technological innovation of the period is evident in the material selection and form. Ponti has refined the shape of the top to a square which amplifies the geometric references explored in the latticework. The simplicity of the structure allowed for the introduction of an intensely colorful palette through painted ceilings, glass, ceramics and richly colored furniture. A closely related square lacquered metal coffee table was created for the living space with the addition of colorfully painted planes.

Other postwar variants of the lattice table were included by Ponti in his own home located at Via Dezza 49 and the Villa Arreaza in Caracas, both completed in 1954. The colorful palette and incorporation of the modern industrial references in metal feet are precursors to similar forms within the Planchart commission completed in the following year. Each table shows the minor adjustments Ponti continued to explore within a form, an exploration that would continue into the late 1960s with a design featuring latticework that extends to the floor forming the feet of the table.

Custom coffee table from Villa Arreaza, Caracas, 1954; Coffee table from the Afta series (Photo courtesy of Galleria Rossella Colombari)/em>

In looking at architecture, Ponti often remarked that the past was key in the evolution of the contemporary aesthetic. Ponti’s insatiable creativity is never more evident than in the unceasing evolution of certain forms across decades. The intricate latticework tables are an icon of the artist’s unique vision within a distinct era. Ponti explained that “a design is not limited to the fulfillment of the material needs of life.” And when looking at this magnificent example, one can visualize the importance of the artistic statement made within each bespoke commission.

Reconstructing the original purity of the form—function relationship does not derive from functionality: it derives from a real world need of ours…to restore a harmonious relationship between form and function in an essentiality that excludes any memory of other formal origins.

—Gio Ponti

Gio Ponti 1891–1979

Gio Ponti excelled at painting as a child and expressed a fervent interest in the arts. Feeling that a career in architecture was preferable to that of a painter, Ponti’s parents encouraged him to pursue the former and in 1914 he enrolled at the Faculty of Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano. His studies were interrupted by war, and in 1915 he was forced to postpone his education. He served as a captain in the Pontonier Corps until 1919, earning multiple military honors. After graduating in 1921, Ponti married Giulia Vimercati, the daughter of local aristocracy and started an architecture firm. During this time, Ponti aligned himself with the neoclassical movement, Novecento and championed a revival of the arts and culture. In 1928, Ponti founded Domus, a periodical tailored to artists and designers, as well as the broader public. A shift occurred in the 1930s when Ponti took up a teaching post at his alma mater, the Politecnico di Milano. In search of new methods to express Italian modernity, Ponti distanced himself from the sentiments of Novecento and sought to reconcile art and industry. Together with the engineers, Eugenio Soncini and Antonio Fornaroli, Ponti enjoyed great success in the industrial sector, securing various commissions throughout Italy. In the 1950s, he gained international fame with the design of the Pirelli Tower in Milan and he was asked to be a part of the urban renewal of Baghdad, collaborating with top architects from around the world. His 1957 book, Amate l’architettura, is considered to be a microcosm of his work —an incredible legacy spanning art, architecture, industrial design, publishing and academia.

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