A Lot to Love | Jad Attal on Gio Ponti

Sep 18,2018 | 10:24 EDT By Rago

Rago caught up with their 20th/21st C. Design Specialist, Jad Attal, to discuss his favorite piece in their September 22-23 Design Auctions: a ca. 1950 Model 2129 Cabinet designed by Gio Ponti for Singer & Sons.

- When did you first become aware of Gio Ponti?

Gio Ponti’s work was always all around me, I just didn’t know it until I began taking courses in the History of Architecture. During a class presentation of Ponti buildings and homes, I noticed furniture in the background of the slides that I’d seen in local shops, including a flip-top console/dining table I had previously spotted in a Montclair, NJ antiques shop. It stood out because of its angular legs, simple materiality and ease of function. I bought it, but I didn’t stop there. Before long I found a set of stainless steel Ponti flatware at a garage sale and purchased it for the same reasons – it was simple and stylish. This is how I came to realize that Ponti was not just a designer of buildings and homes. His work went much further than that and the extent of his creativity began coming into focus for me.

Lot 1090, Gio Ponti, Cabinet (no. 2129), Italy, ca. 1950; Estimate $8,000 - $10,000

- What do you find special/unique/exceptional about him and his creations?

Ponti’s work spanned several decades and styles. He wasn’t just a brilliant architect, he was also a designer that converted mundane objects (furniture and more) into stylish and fun to own pieces. I’m sure everyone at some point has noted the feel of a well-designed fork in their hand, or of a fanciful cup holding their coffee. That’s good design.

What elevates Ponti’s work beyond the valley of good and into the heights of greatness, at least to my mind, is that his output was not limited to either classical or modern. Ponti was equally apt at both. There are Ponti chairs that I look at and think, my grandma would like these. But then I’ll see another set of chairs that are so clean-lined and darning that even I wonder, how did these very different things come from the mind of the same designer?

- A designer of automobiles and buildings as well as furniture, Ponti was a true polymath. How do you think this multi-disciplinary approach affected his design philosophy?

On an experiential level, I think he was compelled to make his works timeless, no matter what the particular project or styling envelope was. Whether it was traditional or cutting edge modern, skyscraper or side chair, he always sought to capture the essence of what makes a piece functional and stylish. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with each new design. Instead, he stuck with principals of practicality and Italian style that have stood the test of time for centuries.

- What about this piece makes it resonate so strongly for you?

This piece represents all the things I just described. It also represents the design world’s ongoing romance with mid-century modern. Let me put it another way. It’s like that favorite aunt or uncle who you always knew was cool, but could never quite put your finger on why. And now that you’re older and wiser, you get it; some people are just cool. That’s what this cabinet is for me. It’s just cool.

- Furniture designs by Ponti continue to command impressive sums on the secondary market. To what do you attribute this continued interest in his works?

Gio Ponti’s mass produced pieces were bought and sold worldwide for many decades, which means most of us grew up with something he designed or noticed it somewhere in our lives. Additionally, there are many rare yet iconic works by Ponti that have cemented his legacy in the halls of academia and high-end design. This combination is the fuel for continued demand and high values. Mass produced or rare, it’s out there and people want it.

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