As Patricia Belen and Greg D’Onofrio have recently underlined in a book printed in connection with a recent exhibit in New York (Italian Types, Graphic Designers from Italy in America), “The arrival of ambitious and original thinkers from the European avant-garde signalled 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.”

Italian Types: Graphic Designers from Italy in America | Presented by Greg D’Onofrio (Grignani is @ 33:48)

Unlike other Italian graphic designers, however, Franco Grignani never moved to America, only making one trip 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:

Group exhibits:

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 from 1946 included in the catalogue: “[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.

Franco Grignani, Ad for Cyma, 1946
Franco Grignani, Ad for Cyma, 1946
  • Los Angeles, UCLA Art Gallery: 1959
  • New York, Gallery 303, “10 designers from Milan”: March 1960
New York, Gallery 303, 10 designers from Milan, 1960
New York, Gallery 303, 10 designers from Milan, 1960

Organized by Max Huber, this exhibit was sponsored by the ‘Composing Room‘, a recognized leader in photo-typesetting, which produced enviable exhibitions and talks to explore, document, and promote the most innovative design of the mid-century. This was the first exhibition in the US to showcase an extensive selection of graphic works from postwar Italian designers. Included in the show (poster above by Aaron Burns) were catalogues, 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
Milanese Graphics, Visual Arts Gallery, 1965
Milanese Graphics, Visual Arts Gallery, 1965 [a]

Renamed ‘SVA Chelsea Gallery’ in 2004, the School of Visual Arts in New York offered a wide range of exhibitions. ‘Milanese Graphics’ displayed works by Antonio Boggeri, Umberto Capelli, Giulio Confalonieri, Franco Grignani, Giancarlo Iliprandi, Giovanni Pintori, as well as 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’), 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
University of Kentucky Art Gallery, Graphics ’67 Italy, 1966
University of Kentucky Art Gallery, Graphics ’67 Italy, 1966

This was a loan exhibition with works (two from each of 42 featured Italian artists) chosen by Umbro Apollonio, who was 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:

Franco Grignani, Silk-Screen Print, 1965
Franco Grignani, Silk-Screen Print, 1965 [33]
  • New York, American Institute of Graphic Arts, AGI’s graphic designers: November 1966

The work of the many eminent graphic artists united in the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), of which Grignani was an early member since 1952, was presented to the American public for the first time at close quarters at Lincoln Center. Works covering the period 1924-1966 were displayed on a continuous wall of corrugated board in chronological order, while on the perimeter of the exhibition area self-portraits of the participating artists replaced the usual photographs; the portrait of Franco Grignani is the one used in the header pic of this blog (on the back of the photo it says: “this is my portrait”).

  • New York, The Mead Library of Ideas, AGI’s graphic designers: May 1967

This was part of a series of exhibitions displaying graphic designs by the members of the AGI, after the one held in November. 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.

Solo exhibits:

  • Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania: October 1958

This 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, which in 1965 became the Industrial Designers Society of America – IDSA – “the single voice of industrial design in the US”), with the aim to “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 in part to the presence of the New Bauhaus since 1937.

  • Chicago, Normandy House Gallery: November 1960

This was held in a gallery located in a famous historic restaurant (often visited by professional groups of architects and academics), where exhibitions sponsored by the Society of Typographic Arts (STA) of Chicago have been held since 1955. The Japanese magazine Idea dedicated a seven-page article to the experimental photographs from the exhibition in issue n° 47, June 1961.

  • Chicago, Container Corporation of America (CCA) Gallery: December 1965
Franco Grignani, CCA Gallery, 1965, poster by John Rieben
Franco Grignani, CCA Gallery, 1965 (poster by John Rieben)

Established in 1926, the CCA was a leading company in the production of corrugated boxes for manufacturers. Even if the products were everyday paperboard packages, its successful advertisement campaigns represented a sophisticated and innovative company that stood apart from others in crossing the boundary 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:

The exhibition poster was displayed in the British magazine Modern Publicity 1966/67.

  • Chicago, 500d Gallery: April 1966 and April 1970

The ‘500d Gallery’ (renamed the ‘Ryder Gallery’ in 1973), 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. Located in Chicago, originally below the typesetting firm Frederic Ryder Company Advertising Typographers, it was founded by its CEO “in the interest of graphic design”. It closed in ca. 1985.

Both solo exhibitions featured posters from the successful advertising campaign for Alfieri & Lacroix, but the 1970 one also displayed material from some recent exhibitions in Italy and abroad:

A colour film about aluminium finishes was shown during the exhibition.

A very important opportunity for Grignani was the design of a cover for the famous international magazine Art in America (November 1966 issue):

Franco Grignani, cover for Art in America, 1966
Franco Grignani, cover for Art in America, 1966 [*]

In 1967 Grignani received the highly coveted recognition merit of the ICTA (the International Center for the Typographic Arts of New York), for ‘Typomundus 20‘, and in 1973 he was elected Honorary Member of the STA, the Society of Typographic Arts of Chicago:

Franco Grignani, Honorary Member of the STA, 1973
Franco Grignani, Honorary Member of the STA, 1973 [*]

For the cover of the Creative Communicator magazine, realised in 1973:

Franco Grignani, cover for Creative Communicator, 1973
Franco Grignani, cover for Creative Communicator, 1973 [*]

he received in 1974 the certificate of excellence for “for distinguished achievement in the communicating arts” for ‘Chicago-74’. This was the 7th Annual Exhibition of Midwest Communicating Arts at the Hancock Building Center. It was 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) and featured an “interdisciplinary approach” [from Graphis issue n° 180, 1976]:

Franco Grignani, certificate of excellence, Chicago-74
Franco Grignani, certificate of excellence, Chicago-74 [*]

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 fourth book ‘Graphic Designers in Europe‘, published by Universe Books, New York, in 1973 (“This books will be invaluable to the students and the practising designer, since they show not only a cross section of the best work which has been created during the last decade, but also the important changes in style which have occurred”, from Graphis issue n° 155, 1972]:

graphic designers in Europe/4, NY, 1973
graphic designers in Europe/4, NY, 1973

The short but indelible experience in the US in 1965 left its mark; 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 defence.»

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”: February 1977
Franco Grignani, Caracas, 1977
Franco Grignani, Caracas, 1977 [*]

Entitled ‘The meaning of a long research’, it was one of the most important Grignani’s exhibits: for 40 days, 83 artworks, presented by Giulio Carlo Argan, were displayed in the new building of the Museo de Bellas Artes, directed by the architect Marcos Miliani, in an exhibition commissioned by the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura (CONAC). It was an ‘exchange’ exhibition: Grignani was invited to Venezuela and the Venezuelan Omar Carreño (already known in Italy for his extensive presence at the Venice Biennale in 1972) to the ‘Marcon IV’ gallery in Rome. In the pages of the Italian-French magazine ‘arte e società’, 9/10, 1977, this event opened a debate on the Italian policy of cultural exchanges with foreign countries, given that Venezuela had to negotiate with a non-public Italian gallery and that “we are looking for masters abroad and here we have one [Grignani, Ed.] who, in the field of the research on vision problems, is second to none”.

Franco Grignani and Omar Carreño at Marcon IV Gallery, 1976
Franco Grignani and Omar Carreño at Marcon IV Gallery, 1976 [e]

Some works are still on permanent display in the MACBA in Buenos Aires and the MACC in Caracas.

In 1973, in the ‘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 [Graphis issue n° 108, 1963, p. 301 – Ed.] 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]

[some photos and posters from 500d Gallery in Chicago were correctly identified thanks to the precious contribution of Marla McMackin, Ph.D. Candidate & Teaching Assistant at The University of Illinois at Chicago]

[*] courtesy of Daniela Grignani
[a] courtesy of Milton Glaser Design Study Center & Archive
[b] from ‘Idea’ issue n° 47, June 1961
[c] from the Italian-French magazine ‘arte e società’, 6/7, 1973
[d] from the catalogue of the exhibit held at Centro Proposte in Florence, 1966
[e] from the catalogue of the exhibit held at Galleria San Fedele in Milan, 1969
[f] from the Italian-French magazine ‘arte e società’, 5/6, 1976
[1] graphéine
[5] Veder bene, courtesy of Bonifacio Pontonio
[6] GARADINERVI, courtesy of Robert Rebotti
[7] AIAP / CDPG Centro di Documentazione sul Progetto Grafico: 1 & 2, courtesy of Lorenzo Grazzani
[8] MUSEONOVECENTO, courtesy of Silvia Penna
[14] Artribune & Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese
[20] Paul Giambarba’s Typepad, courtesy of Paul Giambarba
[28] Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020, lot 1, courtesy of Sara Macdonald
[33] Martini Studio d’Arte, courtesy of Angelo Martini

Last Updated on 26/08/2021 by Emiliano