Across glossy mosaic floors and past the hall where the exhibits of the 23rd International Exhibition of the Milan Triennale converge and merge, I climb a monumental staircase, leaving behind the 2000s-flavored interior bridge, and arrive at a somehow familiar yet unsettling welcome: a Death Star–ish disco ball with a steel-chain curtain backdrop, a multifaceted suspended solid made of audio speakers that gently moan multiple noises in all directions. I take a step back, pause, and let my inner David Byrne ask, “How did I get here?”
This space has long been a hybrid realm. It is called the Palazzo dell’Arte, but the institution it hosts does not spring directly from the realm of art. The origins of the Milan Triennale emerge from the interface between technological progress and an increasingly large consumer class—a dialogue between arts, crafts, and mass production similar to the Deutscher Werkbund, that most German of associations from which modern architecture as we know it developed. In its early days, the Triennale simply sought to display the fruits of this industrial production. But in 1964, it took a critical turn when philosopher Umberto Eco and filmmaker Tinto Brass used the Triennale to analyze the notion of “free” time. Nowadays, international exhibitions and their manifesto-laden main shows have further evolved into big questioning devices, as opposed to design exhibits. Or rather, they are now tools for design insofar as they manage to redefine its questions, to open its scope a little.
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