Where: museo arte contemporanea Villa Croce
When: February 23 – april 16
Press preview: February 23, 11am–3pm
Public opening: February 23, 6pm–11pm
Organized by Joseph Grima and Andrea Bagnato
in collaboration with Archivio Architetto Cesare Leonardi
The Villa Croce Museum of Contemporary Art presents the first comprehensive exhibition on the work of Cesare Leonardi (b. 1935, Modena, Italy). An architect and photographer, in the course of a career that spanned more than four decades Leonardi has continuously challenged the boundary between design and artistic practice. In spite of the recognition gained by his early furniture design – such as the Rocking chair, designed with Franca Stagi in 1967 and featured in the foundational MoMA exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape – most of Leonardi’s oeuvre has remained little known, even within Italy. The exhibition Cesare Leonardi: Strutture, organized in close cooperation with Leonardi’s archive, sheds light on a body of work that is at once intimate and multifaceted.
The exhibition uses the historical backdrop of Villa Croce to explore three broad topics — chairs, shadows, trees — which preoccupied Leonardi throughout his career, and on which he worked across very different scales. In parallel with the acclaimed work on fiberglass furniture, in the 1960s Leonardi and Stagi embarked on a twenty-year-long project to redraw common trees in order to provide a missing tool for landscape designers. The result, is a group of more than 360 hand-inked scale drawings, published in the book L’Architettura degli Alberi (1982) that is now out of print; poetic and obsessive, it goes far beyond its original intentions. A focal point of the exhibition is a series of more than fifty original drawings.
The systematic study of trees, conducted through a large photographic survey that took Leonardi to travel around the world, was propaedeutic to a series of landscape projects based on the idea of a non-hierarchic network. The structure, potentially endless, regulates the position of each element in space.
In the 1980s, as a reaction to the oil crisis that made fiberglass no longer sustainable, Leonardi began working with simple timber formwork. Decontextualized and combined according to increasingly complex patterns, the yellow boards became a series of furniture termed Solidi. These are veritable sculptures in which Leonardi explores the idea of an infinite permutation of the same element. Similarly, photography informed and played along Leonardi’s entire career, reflecting both his interest for abstract form and his analogic working method, which was always based on iterations and sequences. While retaining a highly original language, Leonardi entertained productive exchanges with important figures in the regional scene, such as photographer Luigi Ghirri and artist Claudio Parmiggiani; nonetheless, he always chose to shy away from publicity.
Cesare Leonardi: Strutture is an intimate journey inside Leonardi’s extraordinary body of work where, in spite of the ever-shifting scales of design, it is possible to see a constant tension between work of art and craftsmanship, and between single element and structure.
The exhibition at Villa Croce will be followed by a retrospective at Galleria Civica di Modena, which is scheduled to open in September 2017.
Cesare Leonardi was born in Modena in 1935. After graduating in architecture in Florence in 1970, he returned to Modena and opened an architecture firm in partnership with Franca Stagi. The firm completed several projects at the interior, architectural and landscape scales, among which a swimming center in Vignola (1975) and the City of Trees in Bosco Albergati, Reggio Emilia (1998). In parallel, Leonardi continued to experiment with photography and darkroom techniques. He published several books, including L’Architettura degli Alberi with Franca Stagi (Milano: Mazzotta, 1982), Il Duomo di Modena. Atlante fotografico (Modena: Panini, 1985) and Solidi/Solids (Modena: Logos, 1995). Some of Leonardi’s works have been acquired by institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.