Arts Abroad: Masters Workshop in Venice, Part I

June 14, 2011

One in a series of posts on the summer 2011 Arts Abroad programs, this dispatch reports on the Masters Workshop: Design History, Theory and Practice in Venice and Rome, led by MFA Design Department Co-chair Lita Talarico and BFA Advertising and Graphic Design Department faculty member Louise Fili.

Venice at 6am is a place where the pigeons outnumber tourists on the street – except today, perhaps. The group got up early for a trip to Mantua, which is two hours by car from Venice. The route crosses industrial parks, rail yards and then long stretches of cornfields and vineyards dotted by ochre farm houses. On arrival, Mantua’s Medieval and Renaissance artistic treasures are announced by the dramatic skyline of the historic downtown, which is visible as you approach by car.

Although Mantua may be best known for the sprawling complex called the Palazzo Ducale, where Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna’s frescoes are on view, the SVA group made the journey for a rare workshop at Corraini, the publishing house run by Maurizio and Marzia Corraini with their son Pietro. For nearly four decades the Corrainis have worked with legendary artists like Bruno Munari and other designers, illustrators and architects on books that have been called “impossible” to produce. Fortunately for readers everywhere, this has rarely been the case. “We are beloved and hated by printers,” says Marzia.

As Pietro explained, a Corraini publication typically begins with the artist, who is invited to treat the pages of the book like a gallery. (The Corrainis started out in business creating catalogs for gallery exhibitions, and today their space in Mantua includes a light-filled gallery next to the bookstore.) Because the Corrainis are as invested in the process of creating a given book as they are in producing and distributing it, practicalities like paper and binding are not imposed on their authors but worked out through a three-way dialogue with the printer.

After leading the group through the studio and archives, Pietro gave a brief lecture about the importance of art taking viewers “inside the work,” paraphrasing Munari’s observation that “You don’t read the book, you don’t see the book, you play the book.” Showing Munari’s 1956 classic children’s book Nella buia notte, Pietro then challenged the students to create a 16-page book of their own illustrating a journey of some kind. After three hours of intensive designing, printing, trimming, punching, stapling and stitching, they presented their books to the Corrainis. “Bravi!” said Marzia, “e sono tutti diversi.” Pietro translated, “Well done, and they’re all different,” but his mother’s smile said it all.

A gallery of photos from various SVA Arts Abroad programs can be found on Facebook.

Images: (top) entering Mantua; (middle) Pietro Corriani leads the SVA workshop at the Corriani gallery; (bottom) Rolando Monterosso, Mantova, artist’s book.

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