Art & Culture
Nilufar Presents “Gabriella Crespi” - An Exhibition Celebrating the Italian Design Luminary, Running Until January 25th, 2024 at Nilufar Via Della Spiga in Milan

This exhibition offers an immersive journey into the world of Gabriella Crespi, whose creative brilliance has indelibly shaped the design landscape

Gabriella Crespi (1922-2017) was a celebrated Italian designer known for her innovative creations of furniture and objets d’art. Crespi studied architecture at the Milan Polytechnic, developing an approach to design influenced by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. She began her career in the 1950s, producing unique works such as the “Small Lune Collection”. During the 1960s, she collaborated closely with Maison Dior, expanding her work to home and table accessories. Her creations, which combined innovative design and sculptural abstraction, have gained international recognition. In addition to furniture design, Crespi has also dedicated herself to the creation of jewelry and sculptures, leaving a lasting imprint on the field of art. Her creative pursuit has remained an inspiration for future generations of artists. Throughout her life, Crespi sought to balance her passion for design with a deep spiritual quest, spending nearly two decades on a spiritual sojourn in the Himalayas. In 2005, she returned to Italy and began working on her book “Searching for Infinity, Himalayas”, published in 2007, which reflects her spiritual journey. In 2008, she collaborated with Stella McCartney on a limited re-release of some of her 1970s jewelry collections, donating the proceeds to Shree Baba Haidakhan Charitable and Research Hospital in the Himalayas. Gabriella Crespi died in Milan on 14 February 2017, leaving an indelible mark on the world of Italian art and design. Her work continues to inspire artists and designers around the world.

This exposition is hosted inside Nilufar Gallery in the heart of Milan, a city that has played an integral part in the designer’s life and that has nurtured her creative development and inimitable expression of precious simplicity. The exhibit celebrates Crespi’s artistic legacy while paying homage to the creative spirit of Milan. During her lifetime, Gabriella Crespi embarked on a remarkable journey where she navigated through dynamic artistic periods and solidified her status as an unerring innovator. Throughout her illustrious career, her design philosophy was characterized by an understated elegance and futuristic elements, crafting a distinct oeuvre amidst a climate of artistic experimentation. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Crespi forged her own path as she was not interested in following the artistic currents of that period. Instead, she developed a completely novel aesthetic as she opted to play by her own set of ever-changing creative rules. This is visible in seminal projects such as ‘Rising Sun’ and ‘Plurimi’. In particular, her iconic ‘Rising Sun’ collection demonstrated Crespi’s ability to transmute geometric simplicity into functional artworks radiating warmth and vibrancy.

Nina Yashar of Nilufar Gallery 
Gabriella Crespi among her Kaleidoscope lamps in 1974 (Photography: Archivio Gabriella Crespi by Miussy Werner)

Central to Crespi’s creative ethos was a careful interweaving of artistic vision with meticulous craftsmanship. Her discerning selection of materials proved pivotal in shaping her creations. The interplay of bamboo, rattan and bronze - each imbued with rich symbolism and significance - showed off her distinct artistic vocabulary. Her pieces resonate with the intrinsic qualities of these materials, seamlessly melding natural elements with artistic articulation. This creative process was profoundly personal, as Crespi meticulously sourced materials based on their visual allure and tactile resonance, drawing inspiration from her extensive travels and diverse cultural encounters.

The pieces on display in Via della Spiga 32 illuminate Crespi’s masterful finesse. Her ‘Fungo,’ ‘Obelisco,’ ‘Caleidoscopio,’ and ‘Scudo’ lamps transcend functionality to embody a synthesis of form and purpose, casting an ethereal luminosity that transforms spaces. The intricate ‘Plurimi’ collection, with its modular and transformative furniture, underscores her innovative spirit and predilection for versatility. Crespi’s talent resides in her gift for crafting objects that surpass utilitarianism, emerging as timeless icons fused with cultural resonance. In his introductory text of the exhibition catalog, architect and critic Joseph Grima begins by asking “What is it about the work of Gabriella Crespi that makes its appeal so enduring?” He responds with the following statement: “In a landscape dominated by fleeting trends and male auteurs, Crespi’s creations emerge as timeless reminders that authentic creativity is not necessarily a function of its own time, or any particular time.”

Nina Yashar is the visionary behind Nilufar, bringing a unique perspective to this exhibition. Yashar and Crespi, both Milanese and intrinsically cosmopolitan women, briefly met at the beginning of the 1990s; since then, Yashar has been carefully following Crespi’s artistic developments while acquiring a few of her creations. In the past four years, Yashar has started to amass a collection of the late designer’s work that focus on domestic spaces. After important acquisitions from private individuals, Yashar has succeeded in curating one of Italy’s most extensive collections of Crespi’s works. This exposition not only showcases Crespi’s creations but also underscores Yashar’s profound appreciation for the convergence of artistic expression and functional design, shaping a dialogue of analogies and differences. Adding a contemporary resonance to the narrative, the exhibition will be thoughtfully enriched by juxtaposing contemporary luminous creations by Maximilian Marchesani. 

This dynamic dialogue between past and present reflects the enduring nature of design as an evolving conversation across temporal boundaries. Increasingly, Nilufar is transcending its role as a mere gallery, evolving into a cultural venue, a platform for dialogue and an experimental nexus for the design world. Under Nina Yashar’s stewardship, Nilufar has transformed into a space where the artistic curation resonates profoundly, encouraging visitors to explore and cultivate a discerning sensibility for design. This exhibition encapsulates this transformative journey and is a testament to Nilufar’s evolution into a museum-like space that invites visitors to embrace design as a reflection of cultural narratives and a catalyst for intellectual exploration. In the eloquent words of Nina Yashar, “Gabriella Crespi knew no compromises, only strength and courage. She isn’t merely one of the greatest women designers; she stands as one of the greatest creators of all time - a true trendsetter. Milan, enriched by her presence, has become a treasure trove of her influence, resonating throughout the creative landscape. Each of her pieces gracefully encapsulates her intimate self, fostering a dialogue that continues to enrich us through time.”

Words: Emily Leung & Nikey Cheng
Photos: Filippo Pincolini
Published on November 07, 2023