Working across the disciplines of art, graphic design, industrial design, and publishing, Bruno Munari is among the most celebrated Italian talents of the 20th century. Praised for being a virtuoso of visual language and described by Picasso as “the Leonardo of our time,” his contributions to design thought are immeasurable.
Munari was born in Milan in 1907. After spending his formative years in Badia Polesine, just southwest of Venice, he returned to Milan and began working for his engineer uncle in 1925. In the late 1920s, he joined the Second Futurist Movement, led by F.T. Marinetti, but left as the group became increasingly associated with Fascism. The Futurist’s dynamic aesthetic, however, continued to inspire Munari’s work for many years. Likewise, Munari met André Breton in Paris in the 1930s, and Surrealism had a lifelong impact on him.
From 1938 to 1943, Munari worked as a graphic designer for Italian publishing company Mondadori. During these years, Munari began to write and illustrate children’s books. As an advocate for kinesthetic learning, his stories were often left unfinished in order to teach children to use their imaginations and learn individualistic thinking.
With more than sixty publications, ranging from design manuals to children’s books, Munari utilized experimental typography, pedagogic designs, bold color schemes, and an eclectic choice of materials to express his ideas about language and the world. In 1966, his highly influential book Design as Art expounded on the importance of design in everyday life, as well as the democratization of art and design.
In the 1940s, Munari, along with Gilo Dorfles, Gianni Monnet, and Atanasio Soldait, founded the abstraction-driven Concrete Art Movement in Italy.
Munari’s series of Useless Machines, created over the course of his career, represented a whimsical exploration of childlike wonder and immediacy. This kinetic, mobile-like sculptures achieved wide popularity in the 1950s and ’60s. Munari also designed products for the home, ranging from electronics to children’s toys, including Meo the Cat (1949) and Zizì the Monkey (1954) for Pirelli; as well as the Cubo Ashtray (1957), Falkland Pendant Light (1964), and Flexy Sculpture (1968) for Danese.
Notably, Munari served as art director for both Tempo and Grazia magazines, both of which are owned by Mondadori, as well as Domus. He was the winner of three Compasso d’Oro awards, as well as a gold medal recipient for his book Libri illeggibili at Milan’s Triennale in 1957. His work is found in prestigious art and design collections around the world.
Munari passed away in 1998. For more insight into Munari’s important work, Pamono suggests Munari’s Books: The Definitive Collection of Book Designs by Bruno Munari (Princeton Architectural Press, 2015).