10.22.14 / AG Fronzoni Reappreciated

 


AG Fronzoni was an Italian graphic, furniture and exhibition designer and architect who was born in Pistoia in 1923 and died in 2002. He edited magazines such as Punta and Casabella and was a teacher first at the Società Umanitaria, then at the Istituto d’ Arte of Monza and the Istituto delle Industrie Artistiche in Urbino, and finally at his own school in Milan in 1987. But his name is largely unknown, says Sébastien Hayez, the designer who is the force behind the Fronzoni website. I ask Hayez what we can learn from Mr. Fronzoni (quotes by him here).

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What is Fronzoni’s main contribution to Italian design?
His contribution is important and also invisible. He was a friend of Massimo Vignelli, Enzo Mari, Franco Grignani or Bruno Munari. As a teacher he leaves a vivid memory to many students who become architects (Claudio Silvestrin, among others), graphic designers and industrial designer. His philosophy is probably what remains best shared by his colleagues and students.

Invisible also, because he was active in many fields, so he produced few graphic design pieces (or few architecture, industrial design) as it was one of his activities. He refused to write a line about his work and philosophy. So, few publications share his work, and as his production was mainly seen in Milan, his contribution remains quite unknown to a large public (which is now different with the latest exhibition).

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Where does his work fit into the history of Modernism?
Fronzoni was a child of the post WWII. Like many designers [of that generation], he’s modernist because that was the right moment to rebuild a new world. He often cites Swiss references, jazz music and modernist architecture. But everything was directed into a more radical philosophy.

He avoided using detail, ornaments, color if possible in order to catch attention, to communicate and first to do a democratic design. For him, the end of the Ulm school was a great disaster. Even if more of his work was into the cultural fields, it was a design for everyone, not for the elite. But, what is interesting to see, it’s that with his minimal style he was probably postmodern in a way. He broke the grid to keep structure, and the white space. This free aspect of his posters, for example, is like a bridge to a minimal kind of postmodern style. But in a way he was closer to minimal artist than modernist graphic designer.

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What is your goal with the website?
Collect works and documents in order to give a better place for this work and the philosophy of this man who refused to write a single line about his work. Maybe, one day, to have the opportunity to see a book printed.

What has been the response from young designers to his work?
I have some feedback from students who never met the maestro (and I was the first one, I think) and who remain transformed by the aesthetic quality of his work. His philosophy was coherent, not a style. I think many young students see that design could be timeless, strong and fragile both, and that poetry could be shaped with design. He can have the same effect as Socrates in a way—only speak, never write, but his name is transmitted through years by younger designers.

 

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STEVEN HELLER

is the co-founder and the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts. He writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review and the Graphic Content blog for T-Style. He is the author, coauthor, and/or editor of more than 120 books on design and popular culture, including the recent book Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig (Chronicle).