From the thirtieth of September 2020 to the twentieth of June 2021, the Estorick Collection, the only British museum which solely focuses on Italian modern art, hosted the show Italian Threads: MITA Textile Design 1926-1979. The exhibition showcased the work of the Italian textile firm Manifattura Italiana Tappeti Artistici (MITA) and their collaborations with some of the most interesting Italian artists of the twentieth century. Matteo Fachessati and Gianni Franzone from the Wolfsonian Museum in Genoa, a partner institution for this show and the holder of the MITA archives, curated the show.
Founded in Genoa in 1929 by Italian entrepreneur and innovator Mario Alberto Ponis, MITA was renowned for merging traditional textile making with “mechanical innovations”. The company began by producing rugs following the Middle Eastern tradition, but quickly began collaborating with Italian contemporary artists, designers, and architects like Gio Ponti, Fortunato Depero, Ettore Sottsass and Bice Lazzari (Fig.1, 1954). It was Ponis himself who initiated these collaborations, recognizing the importance of following and fostering the development of Italian art in those years, from Futurism to Art Informel. The creative quality of MITA’s productions was widely recognized at the time and the company participated in various art and design exhibitions both nationally and internationally.
The Estorick exhibition was installed in the two showrooms on the ground floor of the historical Georgian building that houses the collection. The show contains not only the beautiful rugs, tapestries, and fabric samples that the firm produced, but also archival material ranging from letters to preparatory drawings which help to outline MITA’s collaboration with various artists (Fig. 2-3, 2020). The materials are curated so that the display constantly varies and envelops the audience in the narrative of the exhibition: depicting MITA as a twentieth century creative incubator and exploring the role Ponis had in creating a professional and personal relationship with the artists. Though the rugs and tapestries are striking for their composition and manufacturing, it is the archival material that keeps the curatorial narrative of the exhibition together. The cases contain hand painted calendars, product drafts, and photos and letters exchanged between Ponis and various collaborators. These materials offer a vibrant context for the textiles on display. The importance of the archival material is exemplified by the curatorial decisions regarding Gio Ponti’s chair rug (Fig. 4, 1935). Not only was the rug on display, but the exhibition also presented Ponti’s preparatory drawings and fabric studies for it, providing the viewer with both an aesthetic engagement with the final product and an understanding of the various steps in the process of its creation.