Munari’s childhood memories and “Useless Machines”

The “Useless Machines” by Bruno Munari (1907-1998) were inspired by the Milanese artist’s childhood pastime of releasing pieces of paper in the air, as he explained in 1978 during an interview about these vaporous sculptures.

Munari started assembling his “Useless Machines” in the early 1930s, using light cardboard, small pieces of down tree, silk thread, and glass. They were his attempt at artistic renewal, after he realized that abstract painting could no longer achieve that goal due to its burdensome past glory and drained inspiration. With his whimsical sculptures, Munari wished to set abstract painting free by placing it in the context of time and space.

He drew inspiration from the memories of his childhood in Badia Polesine, such as a “swing, hanging from the ceiling” of his father’s home, and the “strips of different sizes” he liked to cut out of paper, including the “small rectangle of one centimeter by fifteen” that the future artist dropped from his window, watching it fall, spinning on itself “like a piece of candy”.

Munari’s machines are “useless” because they cannot produce any kind of material good. However, Munari explained, this makes them in fact extremely useful because “they produce spiritual goods (images, a sense of aesthetics, an education in good taste…)”.

All the best things you can get out of childhood pastimes.

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