Arts & Humanities Society & Culture

Architect Gio Ponti changed the Italian aesthetic

GMOA Giò Ponti armchair-h
Giò Ponti designed both the shape and the fabric of this armchair. "Modern Living: Giò Ponti and the 20th-Century Aesthetics of Design" will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art June 10 through Sept. 17.

Athens, Ga. – Who needs sleep when you have a drawing board in your bedroom to work all hours of the night? Italian architect and designer Giò Ponti may have been prolific because he brought his work into his bedroom. Over a long career, Ponti fused traditional Italian technique with modern material, design and industry.

A collection of his work can be seen at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia beginning June 10 in the exhibition “Modern Living: Giò Ponti and the 20th-Century Aesthetics of Design.” Organized by guest curator Perri Lee Roberts, professor of art history at the University of Miami, the exhibition focuses on Ponti’s career from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Born in Milan, Italy, in 1891, Ponti originally wanted to be a painter but turned to a more practical career when his family objected. He began his studies in architecture at Politecnico di Milano University, but had to put them on hold while he served in Italy’s military during World War I. He graduated in 1921. Over a 60-year career, Ponti left his mark on the manufacturing industry, design and architecture of Italy.

Unlike his modernist colleagues, Ponti did not believe form had to follow function. Instead, Ponti wrote, “I am tempted to … say that form is an ideal contribution, independent of functionality and originated from concepts of essentiality and truth, and that functionality, always implicit in everything, has nothing to do with the matter.”

Despite that strong stance, Ponti’s work was certainly functional, but it was also decorative, making room for beauty as well as use. His interior designs popularized the idea of an open floor plan in home and office, with built-in shelving units rather than heavy freestanding cupboards.

“Giò Ponti was a 20th-century Renaissance man whose aesthetic creativity was inexhaustible,” said Roberts. “I wanted to show off Ponti’s incredible sense of design through his one-of-a-kind pieces as well as his later mass-produced works from the 1950s and also to show the wide range of his achievements using many different materials-ceramic, glass, wood, aluminum and enamel-as well as his important works with collaborators Paolo De Poli and Piero Fornasetti.”

This exhibition features several famous pieces of furniture Ponti designed, like a chair from the Contini Bonacossi residence in Florence that updates the traditional form of the scroll-back chair. It also highlights the variety of materials Ponti used, from porcelain to silver, glass and wood. Always an innovator, he took inspiration from Italy’s classical and Renaissance past but used modern materials.

“Modern Living: Giò Ponti and the 20th-Century Aesthetics of Design” will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art June 10 through Sept. 17. Related events include public tours on June 28 and Sept. 6 at 2 p.m.; a Family Day on July 22 from 10 a.m. to noon; a gallery talk by Roberts on July 28 at 2 p.m.; 90 Carlton: Summer, the museum’s quarterly reception ($5, free for members of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art) on July 28 at 5:30 p.m.; and a film series beginning Aug. 24. All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.

The exhibition also serves as inspiration for Art Adventures, the museum’s free summer program for day camps, day cares and community centers. Art Adventurers will tour the exhibition with trained museum guides and then create their own work of art to take home. Through interactive gallery games and art activities, the program will focus on modern design, concepts of inspiration and looking more closely at the world around us. Morning (10-11:30 a.m.) and afternoon (1-2:30 p.m.) time slots are available Wednesdays and Thursdays from June 14 to July 27. Each 90-minute session can accommodate up to 30 children, with one chaperone for every 10 children. To schedule an Art Adventure contact Sage Kincaid at or 706-542-0448.

This exhibition is sponsored by Casati Gallery, Dudley Stevens, Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art. The museum will publish a fully illustrated exhibition catalog by Roberts.

Museum Information
Partial support for the exhibitions and programs at the Georgia Museum if Art is provided by the Georgia Council for the Arts through the appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. The Georgia National Council for the Arts also receives support from its partner agency, the National Endowment for the Arts. Individuals, foundations and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The Georgia Museum of Art is located in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton St., University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 30602-1502. For more information, including hours, see or call 706-542-4662.