Osvaldo Borsani and Lucio Fontana - Design London Tuesday, November 9, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Lucio Fontana & Osvaldo Borsani: A Synthesis of
    Art & Technology


    The present study is an exceptional grouping of Italian post-war furniture designed by Italian architect and designer Osvaldo Borsani and manufactured by Tecno, the innovation and technology-led company he founded in 1953. Borsani was by then also known for his creative collaborations with experimental visual artists. Gloriously displayed on the integrated bar cabinet is a signed Concetto spaziale from 1959 by avant-garde artist Lucio Fontana with whom Borsani had a prolific creative partnership. In the thriving economic and cultural climate of 1950s Italy, Borsani had begun introducing the juxtaposition of unique, expressive works of art with the clean and rigorous lines of his pioneering functional furnishings. This pairing conferred a singular and priceless form of added value to the bespoke interiors of his clients’ homes.


    The E22 modular shelving system was designed in 1957. It is primarily made from Brazilian rosewood and mounted on anodised aluminium brackets, allowing the shelves to be organised according to individual needs. It was conceived as a ‘living’ piece of furniture that could evolve in both form and function, along with the development of the homes it was in. Within it are two lockable cabinets with brass details.


    The high-tech P32 armchair with foam padding is upholstered in fabric with a modern zip fastening. It also features the iconic Tecno logo on brass bolts either side. The model was designed in 1956 and considered a pioneering feat of engineering, displaying an innovative combination of seat movements including swivelling and returning automatically to its original position. These characteristics made it ideal for lounging and conversing in offices or homes. The armchair, whose appeal remains timeless, was not only featured in important Italian offices such as the Eni building in San Donato Milanese and leisure establishments like the Hotel del Golfo in Procchio, Elba; they were also front and centre of their designer’s own living room. Casa Osvaldo Borsani was on the second floor of a townhouse of on Milan’s via Montenapoleone that also housed the Tecno showroom at street level.


    The living area in Osvaldo Borsani's apartment on Via Montenapoleone showing the present P32 model armchair and E22 shelving system CREDIT: Archivio Osvaldo Borsani / Pietro Carrieri
    The living area in Osvaldo Borsani's apartment on Via Montenapoleone, Milan showing the present P32 model armchair and model E22 shelving system

    The S81 side chair was designed with architect Eugenio Gerli for Tecno in 1962. The seat and back are supported by a rosewood and die-cast aluminium frame. The underside of the chair is also marked with a red Tecno logo.


    At the core of Tecno products was a deep understanding of the role that furniture played in Italian domestic and professional environments which Borsani had gained during his formative years designing for his father’s company, Arredamenti Borsani Varedo. This matured expertise, together with a desire to embrace the opportunities offered by the technologies of modern industrial production methods, underpinned Tecno’s success. The company’s first ever catalogue of ‘elegant, rational and modular’ furniture clearly stated what Borsani saw as the advantages of standardised manufacturing. Designs could be perfectly and durably executed for a greater number of people maintaining a high quality. The components of the present lot were conceived with a prescient awareness still valid today: that the layout of homes might change to accommodate new styles, and its furnishings ought to adapt to that possibility.


    An ‘other’ space within the domestic space

    By Paolo Campiglio, Specialist on the work of Lucio Fontana and Contemporary Art Researcher at the University of Pavia

    "Every family could have a 'Concetto spaziale' in their home, like they own a household appliance or a functional and everyday piece of furniture."
    —Lucio Fontana
    The collaboration between Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Borsani began in the immediate post war period, born out of a mutual sympathy between them and a willingness from the architect to involve artists in his interior and furniture design projects.


    While other avant-garde artists of the 1950s demonstrated a humble flexibility regarding the architect's requests, Fontana affirmed his authorship in his collaborations with the designer, while respecting his ideas. Involving Fontana in an interior design or ceiling decoration commission meant creating an ‘apartment-appropriate Fontana’, a work that would galvanize attention and often impact the surrounding environment. This is exemplified in the ceiling designs which provided indirect illumination with neon lighting and abstract plaster shapes (Casa Borsani, Casa Cavallini, Casa Maffioli). These projects were translations of Fontana’s ideas of the Ambiente spaziale or its most typical iteration, the Concetto spaziale, into forms suited to domestic spaces. These were the outcomes of his purest research, referencing an 'other' spatiality.


    The artist's hope, as he revealed to his friend and collaborator Fausta Squatriti in the 1960s, was that in the future: “every family could have a Concetto spaziale in their home, like they own a household appliance or a functional and everyday piece of furniture." The present artwork, integrated into Borsani's E22 shelving unit commissioned by a private Milanese client, aptly responds to Fontana’s intended dissemination of his ideas in home environments. It also embodies the requirement to feature the cosmic and metaphorical infinity even within the small dimensions of a piece of furniture.


    This Concetto spaziale artwork (1959), marked with ‘graffiti’ and holes on paper mounted on canvas, is vertically integrated in the shelving unit and may also be read horizontally. It is part of a series of ‘graffiti’ on paper conceived by the artist in 1959, at a time of transition towards his more peremptory and definitive formula of the taglio (which later became an emblem of his research). Fontana scratched the paper’s surface with incisive marks and punctured it with clearer incisions that appear to be preludes to the tagli. He was searching for a new sign and a formula that would renew the 'space-time' definition.


    The gestural and violent work reveals an intentional, expressive zeroing (a paper without drawing) and reveals the artist’s inner struggle, his dissatisfaction with the surface as a limit, and his not yet fully fleshed out desire to cancel any superfluous gesture. He soon after discovered the decisive formula of the taglio on a monochrome surface as an affirmation of the infinite, according to a more contemplative and almost 'Zen' conception. Osvaldo Borsani was fascinated by the new direction of his friend Lucio Fontana’s research and encouraged him in 1959 to imagine a 'slit-ceiling' for the Melandri apartment in Corso di Porta Vittoria in Milan, persevering their exceptional collaboration.

    • Provenance

      Private collection, Milan, commissioned directly from the designer, 1959
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      'Nuova poltrona per la serie', Domus, no. 342, May 1958, p. 15 for the armchair
      Giampiero Bosoni, Tecno: l'eleganza discreta della tecnica, Milan, 2011, pp. 13, 88, 97, 164, 165 for the armchair
      Osvaldo Borsani, exh. cat., Triennale, Milan, 2018, p. 154 for the shelving system, pp. 129, 151, 186, 190 for the armchair
      Giampiero Bosoni, Osvaldo Borsani: architect, designer, entrepreneur, Milan, 2018, pp. 470-71 for a free-standing version of the shelving system, pp. 377, 404, 407, 414, 421, 425-29, 464-65, 599 for the armchair, pp. 530-31 for the side chair


Study with wall-mounted shelving system, model no. E22 and integrated ‘Concetto spaziale’, swivel armchair, model no. P32 and side chair, model no. S81

circa 1959
Brazilian rosewood, Brazilian rosewood-veneered wood, anodised aluminium, steel, painted steel, brass, vinyl, fabric, acrylic-covered metal.
Paper mounted on canvas.

Shelving unit with bar cabinet, additional cabinet and adjustable desk: 273.4 x 355 x 155.5 cm (107 5/8 x 139 3/4 x 61 1/4 in.) fully extended, as shown
Artwork: 69.5 x 52 cm (27 3/8 x 20 1/2 in.)
Shelving unit with cabinet: 273.4 x 69.7 x 154.7 cm (107 5/8 x 27 1/2 x 60 7/8 in.) as shown
As shown: 19 shelves, 5 corner shelves
Comprising 23 shelves, 5 corner shelves
Wall-mounted desk: 14.4 x 209.5 x 48.6 cm (5 5/8 x 82 1/2 x 19 1/8 in.)
Side chair: 80.1 x 40 x 52.9 cm (31 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 20 7/8 in.)
Armchair: 83.5 x 82.8 x 77 cm (32 7/8 x 32 5/8 x 30 3/8 in.)

Manufactured by Tecno, Varedo, Italy. Cabinet, armchair and chair incised with manufacturer's logo. Artwork signed L.FONTANA. Together with the original invoice from Arredamenti Borsani Varedo and a certificate of authenticity from the Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan, registered under the archive as no. 3905/1.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 90,000 Ω♠

Contact Specialist

Antonia King
Head of Sale, Design


London Auction 9 November 2021