Book List of the Week

Friendships with Designers and Writers and Artists: Cleto Munari’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter March 20, 2012

Cleto Munari

Product designer Cleto Munari: Cleto Munari Design Associati (Vicenza, Italy)

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Cleto Munari is a designer and design impresario whose work has an especially close connection with the words of writers. In a recent series of limited-edition tables he produced for his first furnishings collection, he incorporated the language of poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Mark Strand—lines of their poetry as well as their drawings are etched into glass tabletops.

“Man and Camel,” glass and aluminum table (2009) by Mark Strand, produced by Cleto Munari

For another project—a set of unique fountain pens—he asked well-known designers to come up with pen designs inspired by five different Nobel Prize-winning writers. Japanese architect Totyo Ito was paired with with Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz; Italian architect and product designer Alessandro Mendini with American writer Toni Morrison; Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca with Canadian-born novelist Saul Bellow; Portuguese author José Saramago with Portugal’s most prominent architect, Alvaro Siza Vieira; and Munari himself with Nigerian author Wole Soyinka. Highlighting the handwritten meditations on “the pen” that he received from each writer and also the concept sketches produced by each of the designers, Munari published a small, elegant book, The Book of Five Pens, commemorating the collaboration process.

This intimate connection with writers, many of whom he counts as friends, is an important aspect of the book list Munari sent to Designers & Books. He includes the novel Miramar by Naguib Mahfouz, saying, “My meeting with Mahfouz was one of the most moving and memorable events in my life, and Miramar was there, stuck in my head like a flickering diamond.” Commenting on Saul Bellow’s Herzog, he writes, “The beauty of the novel lies in this dissection of Herzog’s mind,” and he goes on to say about meeting the author, “I understood something of his character through the light in his eyes.” Munari notes that Man and Nature, “the first book of Wole Soyinka’s poems ever published in Italy and was written for me. When Soyinka decided to dedicate these poetical fragments to me, I understood what simplicity and clarity of thought mean.”

Munari with architects Carlo Scarpa and Ettore Sottsass

Involvement in close partnerships with creative luminaries in design, literature, and art has been part of Munari’s way of working since his early days in Vicenza, Italy. In the 1970s Munari began friendships as well as working relationships that would last for decades with three Italian design masters—Carlo Scarpa, Alessandro Mendini, and Ettore Sottsass. Collaborating with these three, and also other designers, including the architects Robert Venturi and Michael Graves, his studio has produced sterling silver flatware, glassware, wristwatches, jewelry, and other functional items, many of which are represented in the collections of museums worldwide.

His dedication to the pursuit of ambitious design “adventures,” as Munari calls them, reflect a conviction he says comes from another book on his Designers & Books list, Diderot’s Pensées Philosophiques: that “passions and ideal desires . . . represent the real essence of life.”

View Cleto Munari’s Profile     View Cleto Munari’s Book List


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