As Patricia Belen and Greg D’Onofrio have recently underlined in a book printed in connection with a recent exhibit in NY (“Italian Types, Graphic Designers from Italy in America“), “The arrival of ambitious and original thinkers from the European avant-garde signaled the transformation of a new, modern design landscape in America. Artist and graphic designers brought with them visionary ideas and an enthusiastic spirit to the design hubs of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia – cities of opportunity, intellectual and progressive attitude, innovative clients and design networks.”
Unlike other Italian graphic designers, however, Franco Grignani never moved to America; on the contrary, he made only one trip there in 1965, but the interest in his work was conveyed through “specialized magazines, books, and samples distributed to many graphic design schools” [from “graphic designers in Europe/4”, NY, 1973] and some significant group or solo exhibitions:
- New York, MoMA, “Modern Art in Your Life”: October 1949
Conceived to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the MoMA, the exhibition “was designed to show that the appearance and shape of countless objects of our everyday environment are related to, or derived from, modern painting and sculpture, and that modern art is intrinsic part of modern living.“
Franco Grignani was present in the “typography and advertising design” section, with a poster for Cyma watches referred from 1946 (but rather from 1938) included in the catalog: “[free form] can serve to attract the eye to whatever it encloses. Designers use to make lettering stand out (advertisement for Cyma watches) […] [these] are special applications of a new but now generally accepted style.“
- Los Angeles, UCLA Art Galley: 1959
- New York, Gallery 303, “10 designers from Milan”: March 1960
The exhibit was sponsored by the “Composing Room“, a recognized leader in photo-typesetting, who produced enviable exhibitions and talks to explore, document, and promote the most innovative design of the mid-century. Included in the show (poster above by Aaron Burns) were catalogs, book jackets, magazine and album covers, posters, ads, and packaging from leading Italian clients, such as – in the case of Grignani – Alfieri & Lacroix:
- New York, The Visual Arts Gallery, “Milanese Graphics”: April 1965
Later (2004) renamed “SVA Chelsea Gallery”, the School of Visual Arts in New York offered over the years a wide range of exhibitions. “Milanese Graphics” displayed works by Antonio Boggeri, Umberto Capelli, Giulio Confalonieri, Franco Grignani, Giancarlo Iliprandi, Giovanni Pintori, and examples from Imago (poster above by Milton Glaser).
- Carbondale, University of Carbondale, Illinois Mitchell Art Gallery, “Vision 65”: October 1965
In conjunction with his participation at the “Vision 65” conference, officially called “Vision 65: World Congress on New Challenges to Human Communication”, occurred at the Southern Illinois University of Carbondale from 21 to 23 October 1965, Franco Grignani was also present in the collective exhibition held at the Mitchell Art Gallery in Carbondale, where posters, graphics, and other objects designed by the conference speakers were exhibited, “featuring what it is considered some of the best examples of typography produced in the last 50 years” [from The Daily Egyptian, 21 Oct. 1965]. Works from Typomundus 20 were exhibited, too.
The same exhibition then moved to Chicago:
- Chicago, Container Corporation of America (CCA) Gallery, “Vision 65”: 1965
- Lexington, Kentucky, University of Kentucky Art Gallery, “Graphics ’67 Italy”: November 1966
It was a loan exhibition with works, two from each of 42 Italian artists, chosen by Umbro Apollonio, at that time permanent curator of the Historical Archive of Contemporary Art in Venice (The Biennale Archive). The exhibition focused strongly on new approaches in “programmed and Op art and neo-constructivism” and reflected “the continued participation of the contemporary Italian artist on the international level at the creative pace established there soon after World War II” (Edward Bryant, director of the Gallery). Franco Grignani was present with two serigraphs from 1965. Among all the works presented, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, chose (20 Nov. 1966) this one by Grignani to advertise the whole event:
- New York, The Mead Library of Ideas, AGI’s graphic designers: May 1967
It was part of a series of exhibitions displaying graphic designs by the members of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), of which Grignani was an early member since 1952. The Mead Library of Ideas was a gallery maintained by the Mead Paper Company in New York’s Pan Am Building, showcasing the best contemporary graphic design.
- Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania: October 1958
It was a solo exhibition of “graphic art by Franco Grignani, famed Italian graphic designer” (The Pittsburgh Press, 18 Oct. 1958), held throughout the 14th annual conference of the American Society of Industrial Designers (ASID, destined to become in 1965 under the name of the Industrial Designers Society of America – IDSA – “the single voice of industrial design in the US”), with the aim of “discuss the profession’s responsibility to the consumer and producer and the direction which industrial design may expect to take in the future”.
The other solo shows were all held in Chicago, throughout the whole 1960s; in the mid-twentieth century, Chicago graphic design had a strong sense of identity together with a reputation mostly for clean, ordered corporate graphics, thanks also to the presence of the New Bauhaus since 1937.
- Chicago, Normandy House Gallery: 1960
It was a gallery annexed to a famous historic restaurant (often frequented by professional groups of architects and academics), where exhibitions sponsored by the Society of Typographic Arts (STA) of Chicago were often held.
- Chicago, Container Corporation of America (CCA) Gallery: December 1965
CCA, established in 1926, was a leading company in the production of corrugated boxes to manufacturers. Even if the products were everyday paperboard packages, its successful advertisement campaigns presented a sophisticated and innovative company that stood apart from others crossing the border between industry and art, with its support for modern art, commitment to design, and interest in experimentation. In fact, CCA became a sort of patron of graphic arts and design, with a particular interest in European artists, whose work tended to be more experimental than what was then prevalent in the U.S.
The 1965 solo exhibition – held just a few weeks after the already mentioned “Vision 65: World Congress on New Challenges to Human Communication” in Carbondale – featured some of the most recent optical paintings which were to be displayed soon after (April 1966) in Florence:
- Chicago, 500-D Gallery: May 1966 and April 1970
The 500-D Gallery, later (1973) renamed Ryder Gallery, was one of the first Midwest galleries to exhibit fine graphic and typographic art. It opened in 1964 and exhibited the work of local and international graphic designer artists. It was located in Chicago, originally below the typesetting firm Frederic Ryder Company Advertising Typographers, and founded by its CEO “in the interest of graphic design”; it closed in ca. 1985.
A color film about aluminum finishes was shown during the exhibition.
A very important opportunity was also the design of a cover for the famous international magazine Art in America (November 1966 issue):
It is also worth remembering that in 1967 Grignani received the highly coveted recognition merit of the ICTA, the International Center for the Typographic Arts of New York, for the “Typomundus 20”, and that in 1973 he was elected Honorary Member of the STA, the Society of Typographic Arts of Chicago:
For the cover of the magazine Creative Communicator realised in 1973:
he received in 1974 the certificate of excellence for “for distinguished achievement in the communicating arts” for “Chicago-74”, the 7th Annual Exhibition of Midwest Communicating Arts on display in the Hancock Building Center, sponsored jointly by typographers, art directors, advertisers, photographers, filmmakers and others in the communicating arts (the Society of Typographic Arts, the Graphic Arts Council of Chicago, the Chicago Society of Communicating Arts, the Chicago Film Council, the Society of Photographers in Communication, and the Artists Guild of Chicago) with an “interdisciplinary approach” [from Graphis 180, 1975]:
An equally important recognition was the inclusion of some of his works (75 works in 32 pages, mainly from A&L ads, various magazine covers, and exhibit posters), together with a text in which Grignani himself presented his work and his vision of the profession, in the book “Graphic Designers in Europe”, published by Universe Books, New York, in 1973:
The short but strong experience in the US in 1965 left indelible memories; as soon as Grignani returned to Italy, he gave a short interview to Fabio Mataloni: «In Italy, the designer is an isolated professional. In America, on the other hand, he is the one who studies the whole of visualization: from writing paper to the point of sale. And when advertising intervenes, then it is the agency that uses the work done by the designer. Even TV advertising is sometimes solved by the external graphic designer or by an art director. In short, in America, the designer has the function of making real a thing that does not exist. […] Americans are nice. Which means they can sell themselves very well. The country is boundless, it never ceases to surprise the Europeans. […] The American order, American civilization, stops at the roadside. And it is rampant in the cities. […] But this American perfection, in my opinion, responds only to a deep need for defense.»
But Grignani’s success was not limited to the US, as he was also highly appreciated in Latin America.
It is worth remembering two solo exhibitions:
- Montevideo, Instituto de Cultura en Uruguay: 1971
- Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, “Franco Grignani. El sentido de una larga búsqueda”: 1977 (83 paintings, one of the most important exhibit)
In 1973, in the Italian-French magazine “arte e società”, 6/7, Franco Grignani declared: “many images published and republished all over the world, have influenced the «sign of our time». […] In 1970 a detail of one of my experiments, re-photographed from a magazine by the Brazilian artist Moacyr Rocha, won the first prize for the poster of the Paulista Show of Contemporary Art” [Salão Paulista de Arte Contemporânea].
An interview with some historical partners of the “Agens Publicidad” advertising agency, which operated in Buenos Aires in the 1960s, sums up well how Grignani was considered in those years in Argentina: “At that time Franco Grignani was a very unique character here, all the young people looked at him in a very particular way. He was closer to us than the Swiss and much more than the Anglo-Saxons, his contribution seems transcendent to me.”
[the identification of the works exhibited at the Gallery 303 in 1960 was possible thanks to the precious contribution of Greg D’Onofrio]
[*] courtesy of Daniela Grignani
[**] from the Italian-French magazine “arte e società”, 6/7, 1973
[***] courtesy of Milton Glaser Design Study Center & Archive
[****] from the catalog of the exhibit held at Centro Proposte in Florence, 1966
[*****] from the catalog of the exhibit held at Galleria San Fedele in Milan, 1969
 Veder bene, courtesy of Bonifacio Pontonio
 GARADINERVI, courtesy of Robert Rebotti
 AIAP / CDPG Centro di Documentazione sul Progetto Grafico: 1 & 2, courtesy of Lorenzo Grazzani
 MUSEONOVECENTO, courtesy of Silvia Penna
 Artribune & Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese
 Paul Giambarba’s Typepad, courtesy of Paul Giambarba
 Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020, lot 1, courtesy of Sara Macdonald
 Martini Studio d’Arte, courtesy of Angelo Martini