Copper possesses innumerable aesthetic and technical qualities that have long made it an essential material for design and innovation.
Just as with art, the part of the exhibition devoted to design starts from the 1960s. The only exceptions are a few objects dating from the 1940s and 1950s that we decided to include because they are of particular interest and show originality in their use of copper.
To make it easy for visitors to get their bearings, different thematic areas have been created: primary design for the body, design for the home, anonymous design and design linked to environmental sustainability. The objects have been selected in such a way as to present a panoramic view of the different approaches taken by architects and designers to the use of copper to make articles of everyday use, often with unusual results. Figures like Ron Arad, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Antonio Citterio, Tom Dixon, Odoardo Fioravanti, Martí Guixé, Gunjan Gupta, Poul Henningsen, Thomas Heatherwick, Ross Lovegrove, Shiro Kuramata, Paolo De Poli, Gio Ponti, Tobia Scarpa, Oskar Zieta and Giorgio Vigna have turned to copper in their design, attracted by the luster of the material, as well as by the processes of its oxidation and its technological applications.
The section presents a significant range of objects designed by some masters of 20th-century design like Poul Henningsen, Aldo De Poli, Gio Ponti and Tobia Scarpa, for whom the choice of the material was motivated chiefly by its aesthetic qualities, not just those of polished copper but also of the oxides that form on the surface of the objects.
Many designers today, like Giacomo Ravagli and Avni Sejpal, have also chosen copper for the appeal of its lustre and its warm colouring, while David Derksen and Piet Hein Eek have exploited the reflective capacities of copper. Also on display are works by Tom Dixon, who calls copper “almost my signature metal”, using it for the production of a large number of objects.
The allure of copper also lies in the multiplicity of the variations in colour and oxidation that appear as it ages: a group of works illustrates the desire of some designers to make objects out of untreated copper, which display a “life of their own” and, in the changes of their colour over time, are able to tell a story or reveal a new beauty. The names of some of these creations clearly indicate the designers’ intentions, as in Odoardo Fioravanti’s Verderame (Verdigris), 2009, or Lex Pott’s True Colours shelf, 2012.
Alongside objects of a more functional nature, this section includes several items of clothing designed by Romeo Gigli and Prada, that have utilized the properties of the metal in an experimental way.
The use of copper for its aesthetic value has been linked since ancient times to the production of jewellery: fine examples are the pieces designed and made by Giorgio Vigna, present in the exhibition with a selection of his works.
The preciousness of copper is also linked to its actual economic value: this is demonstrated by Martí Guixé’s work 27 kg of Copper, 2009, the result of the designer’s reflections on this question. Copper is used not just for its qualities, but as a metal that increases in value over time.
Design has always been connected with the realities of the manufacturing world and is closely bound up with the evolution of technology. Thus the exhibition includes objects whose manufacturing processes are the significant outcome of research that goes beyond the boundaries of the working of the metal in the traditional sense. They include Oskar Zieta’s Plopp Copper Family, 2006–09, made by a “blowing” process, and Tom Dixon’s Cu29, 2006, an expanded polystyrene chair with a coating produced by the electrolytic deposition of copper ions.
The objects in the exhibition, of which there are over a hundred, have been lent by museums, galleries, private collectors and manufacturers.