May You Live in Interesting Time

—– Exhibition “Milan in 60’s” in Palazzo Morando

by: lunaviola

A quote by the German philosopher Hegel “World history is not the ground of happiness. The periods of happiness are empty pages in her.” could easily find its equivalent in Chinese proverb: “Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a human in a warring period”. Oriental and western consensus premises a seemingly blessing but rather an ironic curse “May you live in interesting time”, which clearly implicates that “uninteresting times” of peace and tranquility are more enjoyable than interesting ones.

In the history of Italy, there was such a bloody massacre that abruptly watershed the country from the before prosperous and euphoric 60’s to the after 3 decades of gloomy and unproductive “Years of Lead” fraught with social and political turmoil from 70’s to 90’s.

On 12 December 1969, a political riot occurred when a bomb exploded at the headquarter of National Agriculture Bank in Piazza Fontana of Milan, leaving 17 people killed and 88 injured.

Crowds filled the whole Piazza Duomo for the funeral

Exactly a quarter of a century after the end of world conflict, this terrorist action against the democratic institution shadowed Italians and people were so feared and preferred to be sheltered inside the nido home rather than freely exchange ideas and social outside. An unrepeatable golden age of sweet dreams thus terminated, and unfortunately the tragedy was imprinted in the mind, and wound has never been healed.

It is more appealing though to have a retrospective look at those “dolce vita” days in what way Milan, proudly boasting herself as the world capital with nothing to envy Paris and London, fermented a fertile soil to attract elites from home and abroad, with natural and eventual achievements from every aspect.

From today, Palazzo Morando will bring us an exhibition of Milan in 60’s. That decade was indeed….. an “interesting time” to be lived in!  

Urban infrastructure and outlook

Recovered from the post-war devastations and fears, the Lombardy capital led the whole country into an economic boom and the first and foremost response was recalled in the urban infrastructure and city skyscrapers.

In 1958, the new construction of Pirellone by the engineering genius Gio Ponti completed as the first high riser in whole Europe. The Pan Am Building (now MetLife Building) in New York commencing 2 years after was clearly inspired by the Italian founder of modern architecture.

Pirellone, Milan, 1958, by Gio Ponti
MetLife Building, New York, 1960, by Emery Roth & Sons in collaboration with Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi

Immediately followed after, Milan also witnessed and out shaped a cosmopolitan city with more skyscrapers like Torre Velasca and Torre Galfa etc.

In 1964, when the 1st red line of metro completed, Milan at that time saw no peers. In fact, the whole New York and San Paolo metro systems copied Milan as prototype. This project also brought Franco Albini and Franca Helg architecture studio and graphic designer Bob Noorda to the winning podium of the Compasso D’Oro prize.


Milan in its 60’s knew to skillfully and seamlessly combine the design driven power with entrepreneur spirits. Gio Ponti, Bruno Munari, Marco Zanuso, Vico Magistretti, Enzo Mari, Castiglioni brothers, Sambonet, Joe Colombo….. numerous celebrated names lie in the key pages of world design history with a limited period of only one decade time’s works in architectures, furniture and many more objects. Craftsmen to satisfy the great design demands jumped into the industrial giants of today. Brionvega, Cassina, Zanotta, Kartell, Tecno, Fontana Arte, Artemide, Flos, Arflex and Danese etc….. The long list of brands and factories could still continue lines ahead.

Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni designing for Brionvega
Superleggera chair designed by Gio Ponti
Vico Magistretti in the process of designing Eclisse lamp


Projected by Castiglioni brothers and graphic design by Bruno Munari, guaranteed by these famed figures, Derby Club soon promised a success as a meeting point for the most avant-garde writers, artists, professionals sportsmen, and even cabaret performers.

The great season of music in Milan was inaugurated with the Billie Holiday concert in 1958 at the Smeraldo and the happy episodes continued with all the greats of jazz, from Duke Ellington to Thelonious Monk. Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan resided in Milan as home.

Billie Holiday at Teatro Gerolamo
Bar Jamaica, a famous gathering point for artists
Ella Fitzgerald sang in Teatro Lirico

Even light music has a golden age with the concerts of the Beatles at Vigorelli in 1965 and the Rolling Stones at the Palalido in 1967, which seal the role of Milan as a modern city ready to welcome the greatest protagonists of pop and rock music across the oceans.

Beatles in Duomo of Milan
Rolling Stones’ concert rocked the whole Milan

Every night rotated inaugurations of artists’ exhibitions among Galleria Apollinaire, Galleria Azimut, Galleria il Cenobio and “Pino alla parete”. Milan was undoubtedly a destination for those thirsts for cultural life and art galleries.

Artistic fervor diffused everywhere in the air. Lucio Fontana seriously sat in his studio, seemingly not in the thoughts of how to cut the paper, and Piero Manzoni was less aggressive to put the Artist’s Shit in a box as his masterpiece work.

Lucio Fontana in his studio

During the 60’s, many publishing houses seek to redesign the graphic look of their publications collaborating with the most important designers. Among the most relevant cases, we must mention the union of Bruno Munari and the Einaudi, Bob Noorda and Feltrinelli, for whom he also designed the logo, and finally of course not to forget Anita Klinz and the Saggiatore. The only exception is the Adelphi, which digested all aspects internally and in 1963 printed the first volume for the Library.

That conflict story happened in Piazza Fontana closed the whole chapter of Milan glamor. Overnight the dream was awakened. As in the song, “Those days are gone”, and the train thus forever lost in the mists…..

Good news arrives that Milan will host the World Cities Culture Summit in 2020. Thanks to the boost given by Expo 2015, Milan has placed culture and creativity at the heart of its development. This may be a turning point to drag back Milan as the world cultural capital as used to be in its glorious 60’s? Let’s wait….. and see!

MILANO ANNI 60. Storia di un decennio irripetibile

curator: Stefano Galli

6 November 2019 – 9 February 2020

Palazzo Morando | Costume Moda Immagine

Via Sant’Andrea 6, Milano