The playful books of Bruno Munari





To delve into the galaxy of fantasy and technique of Bruno Munari (Milan, 1907-1998), one illuminating example suffices. The 1940s. The designer read a story every night to his son Alberto, but he realized that the contents were too grayish to stimulate his offspring.

A monochord symphony that activated the fuse to create “sensory tales”: children’s books with dies, threads, colors and cats that slide through holes, which allow children to experience first-person astonishment. 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 (Child Editor) remain in bookstores every season among the most recommended. 70 years after their birth they are immune to fads.

“He invents a very nice thing which are 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 is very fine in this regard and it is a pioneer”, breaks down Manuel Fontán del Junco, director of Museums and Exhibitions of the Juan March Foundation in Madrid, which hosts 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 furniture designs and office supplies, books, graphic posters, 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 is eclectic. Bruno Munari worked as a designer, his best-known facet, but he also worked as a pedagogue, philosopher, teacher, theoretician, poet, visual communicator, advisor to large companies such as Mondadori and even an experimental film director.






Bruno Munari, Scultura da viaggio, 1958, CSAC. Center for Studies and Archives of Communication, University of Parma

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

“Very soon he reconciled his work as an artist with that of a designer. That has weighed him down 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 by themselves”, indicates Fontán del Junco who would 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 it, like reading between the lines.

The disobedient inventor

The Madrid team rushes to the rescue of Munari and settles a historic debt. The creator is little known outside Italy despite the fact that his specific weight in the design of the 20th century is crucial and in the US, Switzerland or 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 the waves reverberate through underwater microphones. Bruno Munari was captivated by the simplicity of forms inherent in traditional Japanese culture.

The feeling of smaller figure is just a mirage. As a discreet 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 problem solving 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, that 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 paper rain in 1969 in a small Italian town. Almost in what could be a transcript of a modern performance scientific.

“I think he would not have minded not being famous. He said that the revolution was made in silence in the sense that changes are made little by little and may be noticed in one or two generations,” remarks the curator. 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 devising and playing.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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