The playful books of Bruno Munari

To delve into the fantasy and technical galaxy of Bruno Munari (Milan, 1907-1998), an enlightening example is enough. The 40s. The designer read a story to his son Alberto every night, but he realized that the content was too grayish to stimulate his offspring.

A monotone symphony that activated the fuze to create “sensory tales”: children’s books with dies, threads, colors and cats that slide through holes, which allow first-person experimentation in the face of children’s amazement. A preview of the pop up with many layers where the child is the protagonist.

This “revolution” has naturally linked with contemporary pedagogical methods. Munari’s children’s books such as Goodnight everyone either the yellow illusionist (Niño Editor) remain in bookstores each season among the most recommended. 70 years after their birth they are immune to fashions.

“He invents a very nice thing that is the ‘Pre-books’ that They are designed for children who do not yet know how to read., so that they get used to the fact that there are objects out there full of mystery that have pages, colors and shapes. The book with text will come later, in the field of pedagogy it spins very finely in this sense and is a pioneer”, explains Manuel Fontán del Junco, director of Museums and Exhibitions at the Juan March Foundation in Madrid, which is hosting the first retrospective. by Bruno Munari in Spain (until May 22).

In Munari’s books the child is the protagonist Dolores Iglesias / Juan March Foundation Archive

The exhibition deals with a titanic task because compresses Munari’s creative frenzy into more than 300 objects which adds designs for furniture and office supplies, books, graphic signage, sculptures, paintings… Plus an incentive: it allows immersion in one of its famous educational “laboratories” that overflow the imagination through play.

It is just a flash of “multiple person” as he sarcastically labeled himself, since he displayed an activity as torrential as it was eclectic. Bruno Munari worked as a designer -his best-known facet of him-, but he worked as an educator, philosopher, teacher, theorist, poet, visual communicator, advisor to large companies such as Mondadori and even experimental film director.

Bruno Munari, Sculpture da viaggio, 1958, CSAC. Study Center and Archives of Communications, University of Parma

It started in Italy thanks to the geometric futurism of Marinetti, but it soon became unmarked as a loose verse deaf to the canon and to the cliques of establishment of art that he valued as elitist.

“Very soon he made his work as an artist compatible with that of a designer. This has weighed on him because during his life, designers considered him too much of an artist and artists too much of a designer. He is ahead of his time.”explains Manuel Fontán del Junco about the founder of the Movement for Concrete Art (MAC).

“He is a Socratic artist, which has to do with well-understood irony and maieutics. It’s not about telling people what to think for sure but to help them reach conclusions on their own.” Fontán del Junco indicates that he will also curate the exhibition.

Always under a veil of joy but with an oak character, the Italian was governed by synthesis, practicality and “lightness” in his “anonymous designs” under a maxim that is almost a mantra: Can it be done in another way? And if you can’t improve it, don’t try, like reading between the lines.

The disobedient inventor

The Madrid team rushes to the rescue of Munari and pays off a historic debt. The creator is little known outside of Italy despite the fact that his specific weight in 20th century design is crucial and in the US, Switzerland and Japan he is revered as a star. In Tokyo it was declared a “national monument” and there he designed his fountain to five drops (1965) where waves reverberate through underwater microphones. Bruno Munari was captivated by the simplicity of forms inherent in traditional Japanese culture.

The feeling of lesser figure is just a mirage. As an understated magician, he first applied the art to computer programming or broadened his scope as a theorist in his work. How are objects born? (1981). In this acute analysis, he implemented with Cartesian rigor “the Munari method” of solving problems in design, which he assimilated to the logic of following the steps of a cooking recipe (green rice).

“If there is no solution, it is not a problem”is another of his great phrases, almost turned into aphorisms, which exemplify his creative compass.

Bruno Munari surrounded by several of his works, 1967 ugo mules

The inventor was also able to show what is before our eyes but we do not see as it happens with “a rainbow in profile”. He managed to make it visible in the air when he organized a rain of paper in 1969 in a small Italian town. Almost in what could be a transcript of a modern performance scientific.

“I think he wouldn’t have minded not being famous. He said that the revolution was done in silence in the sense that changes are made little by little and may be noticeable in one or two generations,” remarks the commissioner. that defines the artist as “a big boy” in the most playful sense of the word. Picasso described him as the “Leonardo of our time” because Munari, like the waves in perpetual motion, never stopped thinking and playing.

The playful books of Bruno Munari