Massimo Minini & Formafantasma: the form of memory

The meeting of the leading Italian gallerist with the duo Formafantasma has generated a body of works around the idea of the archive. A series of objects in steel, glass and silk, in an exhibition conceived to change over time

“Archivio Massimo”, Formafantasma @ Galleria Massimo Minini – Untitled (Bookshelf), 2023 – Photo © Marco Cappelletti
“Archivio Massimo”, Formafantasma @ Galleria Massimo Minini – Untitled (Bookshelf), 2023 – Photo © Marco Cappelletti

Archivio Massimo (Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia, until 26/07) is an exhibition that operates on multiple levels. In formal terms, it shows us a series of objects – a table, a bookcase, filing cabinets – that ritualize the act of conservation and the actions associated with it: to put in order, to protect. This leads indirectly to reflections on the value and meanings of these actions. The underpinning of it all is the encounter between an outstanding gallerist, Massimo Minini, and the design duo Formafantasma, which has made conceptual investigation into a unique modus operandi.

In the foreground: Untitled (Table), 2023

It all began with an initial visit to the gallery. This was the moment when Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin discovered the gallerists archive, an unusual collection of letters, invitations to shows, posters, artists’ books, but also design, fabrics, furniture, photographs. Minini feels the need to periodically reorganize these materials. Starting from this initial exploration, followed by other visits, Formafantasma began to develop the objects/tools for displaying, organizing and protecting.

The theme is memory. The steel and glass with which the objects are made (all in limited editions of four pieces) are often joined by silk bearing the image of an orchid, the Ophrys apifera, which in time has shaped its flower to attract a precise species of bees for pollination. In certain places where the flower is widespread this species no longer exists, but the form of the flower has not changed: it is a memory that becomes tangible.

The materials utilized are “cold” but they create unexpected decorative elements: like the small bolts that become a relief pattern, a symbol of defense as if they were studs or items that permit tactile interpretation, like the Braille alphabet. Like Minini’s archive, the items on display are periodically rearranged according to criteria that change each time.

Exhibition view
Untitled (Cabinet 1), 2023

We asked Massimo Minini (whose gallery, together with that of his daughter Francesca, has collaborated with important design firms and companies during Milano Design Week) if there is reciprocal interest between art and design: “They are neighboring worlds,” he replied. “Often artists also act as designers, and vice versa: Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari. Alberto Garutti took a degree in architecture, then he studied at the Brera art academy. Gabriele Basilico, who had a degree in architecture, explored many other paths, but he was too quarrelsome to get to the end of the courses. A genius, in any case. Fausto Melotti was an engineer. The roles are interchangeable, and they are also close in terms of attitude, objective. The boundary separating the two worlds is blurry, and the artist can shift back and forth, depending on the perspective.”

Untitled (Panels with sliding door), 2023

A borderline he explains as follows: “In the wider sense, I would say that art is the only completely useless thing. Design helps us to eat better, architecture helps us to sleep better. Besides many other things. Art is like a game, with no practical purpose. It does not respond to a measurable need.”

The project with Formafantasma is based on affinities. “I had heard good things about them, we met, and the idea arose of doing something together,” Minini continues. “We are in the same world, it was natural for us to meet, sooner or later. Andrea and Simone are something more than simple designers, and they are intelligent enough to make people understand what they are doing. They are not trapped in a cul-de-sac, an enclosure. Their work spreads by 360°, though a mathematician has pointed out that if you make a 360° rotation you come full circle and return to your starting point, so perhaps we should say 180° – but these are subtle quibbles…”

All photographs © Marco Cappelletti courtesy Galleria Massimo Minini