A collection of works by Italian architect and designer Gio Ponti is on display until Sept. 17 at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia. Organized by guest curator Perri Lee Roberts, a professor of art history at the University of Miami, the exhibition Modern Living: Gio Ponti and the 20th-Century Aesthetics of Design 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.
“Gio 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 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.
Related events to the exhibition include Family Day on July 22 from 10 a.m. to noon; a July 28 gallery talk by Roberts at 2 p.m.; 90 Carlton: Summer, the museum’s quarterly reception (free for members of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art, $5 non-members) on July 28 at 5:30 p.m.; a film series beginning Aug. 24; and a public tour on Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. All events are open free 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 through 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-542-0448.