A hundred years of history. Ceramics viewed from Montelupo Fiorentino | by Elena Pasoli
A hundred years of art and design, entrepreneurial intelligence and dialogue between tradition and innovation are showcased in a new corporate museum opened in early September 2021. The Bitossi Archive Museum was specially created to house the Bitossi industrial archive, a collection of more than 7,000 artefacts assembled thanks to the determination of art director Ginevra Bocini, a fourth-generation member of the Bitossi family, in collaboration with the many professionals who worked on the project. It is a unique tribute to a history of craftsmanship, innovation and collaboration with the great masters of design that has now been made accessible to the general public.
The museum was opened to coincide with the centenary celebrations of the Colorobbia Group, an Italian centre of excellence that grew up in Montelupo Fiorentino, one of Italy’s oldest centres of ceramic production deep in the heart of Tuscany. “The Bitossi Archive Museum embodies the company’s identity. It is the custodian and disseminator of memory, the repository of industrial culture responsible for narrating the company’s history and transformation from the past through to the present while always looking to the future,” says Ginevra Bocini. It is only fitting that this story should be told in the splendid setting of the former Bitossi ceramics factory. Designed by architect Luca Cipelletti, founder of AR.CH.IT, the museum occupies a more than 1500 square metre space inside the former production facility. It maintains the site’s original structure with the aim of preserving it as an example of industrial architecture. “The purpose of this approach is to tell a story not by isolating it in areas devoid of identity but by contextualising it in spaces that are open to multiple levels of interpretation and stimulate the visitor’s curiosity,” explains Cipelletti.
Visitors to the Museum Archive can explore a vast ceramic collection of around 7,000 items created through partnerships with numerous extraordinary artists and designers, collaborations that have shaped the company’s history and personality and rendered it truly unique. These include established figures such as Ettore Sottsass, Nathalie Du Pasquier, George J. Sowden, Marco Zanini, Christoph Radl, Michele De Lucchi, Karim Rashid, Arik Levy and Fabio Novembre, as well as representatives of the younger generation such as Max Lamb, Formafantasma, Dimorestudio, Benjamin Hubert, Quincoces-Dragò, Bethan Laura Wood and Pierre Marie. The museum also houses the work of longstanding creative director Aldo Londi, who spearheaded Bitossi’s research efforts and experiments for decades and personally carried out a number of splendid projects such as the animal and Rimini collections. One of the highlights of the archive is Mimmo Paladino’s work “Il dormiente con il coccodrillo” (“The Sleeper and the Crocodile”), which ranks among the best-known and most exciting installations by the master of the Transavanguardia movement. It is part of a series created for a major exhibition held in London in 1999, where it was presented in conjunction with a sound system specially designed by British musician Brian Eno.
Aside from the beauty and value of the exhibits themselves, a special mention should also go to the layout of the museum, which is the result of a carefully designed museographical and curatorial strategy. The ceramic pieces are arranged on spruce wood shelves organised according to chronology and type, while central islands are used to display works of particular importance due to their uniqueness or size. The collection is accompanied by an extensive archive of drawings, workbooks and other design and marketing documents, a kind of picture gallery that creates a link between materials and information. The last shelf remains empty, ready to be filled with the fruits of new collaborations, technical tests and prototypes.
The latest collection in the Bitossi catalogue is housed in a dedicated project room, which currently hosts a series of ceramic pieces created by French artist Pierre Marie as the result of an encounter between the artist’s imaginative worlds and the long ceramic tradition.
Of course, a historical archive of this size and importance is not something that comes about overnight and in fact dates back to 2008 when the Vittoriano Bitossi Foundation was set up for this specific purpose. The foundation is named after the man who took over his father’s legacy in 1942 at the age of just 17 and oversaw the company’s international expansion for many decades until his death in 2018. During the post-war boom years, he promoted the first collaborations between the world of ceramic production and leading designers, including the great Ettore Sottsass. “The work of many years is preserved here,” says Marina Vignozzi Paszkowski, curator of the industrial archive. “It is a story of business culture, of a factory, a family, craftsmen and artists. A story of Italy itself.”
Her words are echoed by those of Porzia Bergamasco, whose work as curator of the exhibition involved organising this unusually vast collection in a visitor-friendly manner. “Visitors are treated to an immersive, totally physical and perceptual experience that unfolds in a rigid yet permeable space,” she said. “A space where everything appears to float and come alive, that changes according to the point of observation, the echo of a silhouette, the vibration of a colour…”
The opening of the Archive Museum was accompanied by the publication of a book entitled Handmade by Bitossi – 100 Years of Tradition produced in collaboration with Christoph Radl, a follower of Ettore Sottsass. The book contains numerous contributions from the worlds of design, art and fashion, including surprising anecdotes, reflections and distant reminiscences. It also contains photographs of Bitossi ceramic artefacts set in splendid Milanese interiors by Delfino Sisto Legnani and the delightfully intimate and romantic photographs by Piotr Niepsuj.