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A visit to Casa Mollino

An apart­ment in Turin is a potent if par­tial tes­ti­mony to the life and works of one of Italy’s most influ­en­tial and eccen­tric 20th-century designers- though he never lived there.

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A house should be a reflection of both the essential and what is really important to you. If that is the case, good luck with deciphering the home of Italian designer Carlo Mollino (1905-1973 Turin). The apartment located in a picturesque two-story 18th century villa on the Po River, was never his actual home. He simply never lived there. Mollino designed the rooms from 1960 through to 1968 as a lavish and intricate settings for one of his more obsessive photographic interests, female portraits to create an inexplicable, vast collection of erotica.

 
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The man Carlo Mollino  

What to make of Mollino? He was an eclectic man: an architect, a car and airplane pilot, an inventor of ski techniques, a writer, a professor in the Turin Polythecnic and a dainty photographer. Sometimes marginalized in architectural history as ‘enigmatic’, ‘erotomaniac’, and ‘dangerous’, Mollino can never be pinned down. Often described as a genius obsessed with sex, occultism and superstitions, Mollino was known during his lifetime mostly for his architecture and unique—organic and very sensual, one-of-a-kind- furniture pieces. Only a few of his buildings and one interior survive today, notably Turin’s teatro Regio. Thanks to his family’s wealth he was able to isolate himself in Turin, where he could pick and chose projects, free from financial pressure. Mostly he did one-off commissions for wise clients, always working in an intensely personal style inspired by his passions – feminine refinement, fluency of skiing, automobile racing, flying and the occult — rather than design convention.

 

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On restoring the apartment 

This and more curious facts and anecdotes on Mollino’s eclectic life and career are shared by the curators father and son, Fulvio and Napoleone Ferrari who restored the apart­ment and opened it as a pri­vate museum, much as Mollino left it when he died sud­denly in 1973. 

 

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After Mollino’s death, the apartment was sold to an engineer who used it as his studio for 28 years. Was the interior still intact after he left?  

Fulvio: No, it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t. He threw and gave a lot away. Let me show you the original inventory that was done after the death of Mollino in 1973. This drawing is our bible, since there are no photographs of the interior. This little inventory is everything. We never met Mollino, but we interviewed his clients, colleagues, university professors, his craftsmen, girlfriends and models; we read hundreds of his private letters and documents. With all of this we have been able to re-create the apartment.  

 

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Can you tell us the story behind the apartment and Mollino’s obsession with the afterlife?

Fulvio: This house was never inhabited by Mollino. It’s an house he created for his afterlife, inspired by the project of the construction of the Egyptian pyramid which is the house for the perpetuity of the pharaohs. In some way Mollino was following this Egyptian view of life: we are living in one of the many sequences of life and we are preparing for something, although we don’t know what it is, perhaps something useful for the following life. Mollino tried to understand what we have to do in this life to get to the next chapter. This is what this apartment is all about. The Egyptians believed that if you die, the soul will be judged and if the judgement is positive, you are admitted to the afterlife. If not, you are eaten by a monster and your life is finished forever. So in this life you should prepare this final judgement. If you consider this life as some sort of education, you have to study, to capture the beauty of the world and nature, and at the end you will examined. Mollino saw this apartment as a showcase of understanding this life. He never theorized what I am saying, but he left many keys for us to understand this idea.

 

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Keys, like hints and clues hidden in the apartment? 

Fulvio: Yes, indeed. This house should be considered on two levels, one that is the visible one, and the esoteric one, which is visible through symbols. Every room in the apartment is a reconstruction of the beauty of nature. We enter through a vestibule-garden of incorruptible maiolica with blue and white flowers, then into a sitting room with blown-up photographic forests, zebras, shells and winged bronze lions. The bathroom walls are covered with hundreds of suns in Vietri maiolica among which Mollino has set bodies and faces of girls on the beach. Lastly, there’s a special room with leopard spotted walls and a symbolic army of 316 butterflies. Mollino was very gifted, he was a man of many cultures and he loved mixing them all up in his home, to show off he knew this life very well.

 

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In the apartment Mollino set aside one room for a particular purpose: it was to be the place where he would die. 

Fulvio: He wanted to model his death according to the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, whose souls were taken by boat to the sumptuous city of Abido, where they enjoyed luxurious after-lives. The room was furnished accordingly. A 19th century bed shaped like a boat was placed on a watery blue carpet. Beside it lay an embroidered cushion depicting the pharaonic death voyage. One wall was covered leopard, referring to the gifts the pharaoh was offered and one wall is adorned with colored butterflies: symbols of ancient funeral rituals and of the women whom Mollino expected to entertain him in the after-life.

 

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You think of him as a brilliant man, although his talent was neglected during his lifetime. 

Fulvio: Mollino was very gifted and his brain was out of the ordinary. He never explained his life, nor wrote anything down. He was a master in absorbing the beauty of nature and he considered the feminine body as the most sophisticated structure. He was fascinated by the female body and he was drawn into understanding its beauty. But Mollino was also a fantastic photographer. In the 30’s he set up an apartment, called Casa Miller, in which he photographed women. He took their portrait and staged decorations. But, from the 50’s, the portraits became secrets: why did he make such a big amount of portraits? There was no signature, no title, no nothing. We didn’t understand. But it’s truly fascinating!

 

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Where does your fascination for Mollino come from?

Fulvio: In the early 1980s I was doing research and I rediscovered Italian post-war design, which led me to Mollino’s work. His story has so much depth, I was intrigued and had to know more. 

 

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And you passed the bug onto your son, who’s co-curating the museum.

Fulvio: We write the books on Mollino together, we co-curate exhibitions. He is a philosopher and I am a chemist, but I did many different things in my life. Me and my son Napoleone have two different points of view: he is cultivated, while I am more practical. When we disagree, we solve the problem by flipping a coin or calling in the help of a friend. 

 

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Text: Magali Elali
Photography: Bart Kiggen
Vis­its to Casa Mollino are by appoint­ment only.

 

Museo Casa Mollino
Via Gio­vanni Francesco Napi­one 2
10124 Torino
+39 011 8129868
mail

About Mollino 

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