Cleto Munari’s New York Debut (Finally!)


Detail of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Table: Can't Beat That!

There is something to be said for waiting patiently for “the next big thing.” That said, I have absolutely no patience when it comes to postponing visionaries being celebrated in our American design milieu, which in so many ways lacks the spark that I’ve been seeing in Europe. We’re about to get an important infusion of that brilliance when Cleto Munari finally debuts the talent he’s fostered for over four decades in New York City on February 2nd, and I believe this exhibition will prove Munari’s lasting impact on the world of design.

Here’s some background on the man I like to refer to as the “Modern Design Poet”: In 1973, through his close friendship with Carlo Scarpa, Cleto Munari began collaborations with a stellar list of international architects and artists that resulted in functional items of beauty such as furniture, rugs, glassware, jewelry, watches and pens. Scarpa and Munari produced cutlery and sterling silver tableware, and Munari went on to design products with Aulenti, Botta, Portoghesi, Ito, Sottsass, Hollein, Mangiarotti, Tusquets, Paladino, Siza, Mendini, R. Meyer, Graves, Isozaki, Hoppenheim, Shire, Eisenmann, Venturi, Tigerman, Pelli, Bellini, Sipek, Thun, and Zanuso.

Cleto Munari in the Proust Chair

In 1980 Munari created a silverware and gold jewelry collection, called Masterpieces, with contributions by more than 50 architects and artists from around the world. The collection has been exhibited in 120 museums, and is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Munari has now collaborated with Alessandro Mendini for over 30 years.

Together they have been responsible for silver accessories, jewelry, a pen dedicated to Toni Morrison (from the Book of 5 Pens Collection), and a new 2008 collection of furniture, rugs and silver sculptures. Munari had only briefly worked with furniture in the past and has just recently felt ready for the challenge of creating new collections, including a line he designed with Mendini in 2008, which expresses the architect’s lyrical way of looking at life and includes etchings taken from his personal drawings that he refers to as “decorative doilies.”

Munari does not understand how anyone can live with furniture devoid of color. He has told me that each time he enters his house he has the impression that he is “invaded by the music of all the colors.” To him, it is poetry. His newest collection is entitled “I Magfinci 7,” a series of tables designed by Cleto, the beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet Mark Strand, painter Sandro Chia, artist Mimmo Paladino, architect Mario Botta, and Mendini.

  • JoAnn

    I met Cleto Munari 4 years ago in Vicenza and my world was changed forever. To me he is an alchemist, a rare man who makes dreams solid. This post is lovely, like the the man himself. Grazie mille!

  • Gloria Graham Sollecito, AKBD

    As a kitchen designer I always say the best projects are the result of good collaborations. This is exactly the case with Mr. Munari’s work. His genius is in blending his talents with other great creatives.

  • Saxon Henry

    His reach as a fosterer of talent is going to be one of his greatest legacies, JoAnn. You are so right to call him an alchemist. History will show that he has made a substantial mark on the world of design.Thanks for stopping by, Gloria. He is indeed a genius.