Why is there a 3D printer within the display of this museum? Palazzo Strozzi in Florence is an innovator in museum display, and the inclusion of a 3D printer in an exhibit that is not about additive manufacturing or anything directly correlated is another example of this.

The show in question is "The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism" (in Italian: Anni 30) at Palazzo Strozzi from September 22, 2012, to January 27, 2013. 96 paintings, 17 sculptures and 20 design objects are used to tell the story of a crucial era characterised by an extremely vigorous arts scene in the years of the Fascist regime, against a backdrop that included the embryonic development of mass communication in Italy and the worldwide industrialization of production.

A section of the show is dedicated to design and the applied arts of the 1930s, a period in which mass multiplication or the reproduction of art was made possible. The design of this period is one that is in line with a modern aesthetic of rational minimalism, like this beautiful sculpture by Fausto Melotti.

Fausto Melotti (Rovereto 1901-Milano 1986), Scultura n. 11, 1934 (1960 circa). Photo: Paolo Vandrasch

It is within this context, with the sign "Back to the Future," that we find a RepRap Mendel-derivative 3D printer produced by our friends Kent's Strapper. A family project that involves all generations of the Cantini family in the production and sale of this open-source hardware that is made right here in Florence.

Still in its infancy, 3D printing is becoming more mainstream as the machines lower in price (in fact, the Kentstrappers' Galileo model is one of the lowest priced machines available) and provide higher resolution. They provide the possibility of printing objects based on three-dimensional computer models, within certain limits of size. Many tout this piece of machinery as the key to the third industrial revolution. 3D printing has been written about in Wired, Forbes and The Economist, amongst other mainstream press, though it still requires definition for many people, as few have heard of these objects let alone seen one in action. This is why it's particularly important and helpful that Palazzo Strozzi has chosen to show people this very contemporary item.

About their participation in the exhibit, the Cantini family declares:

We're particularly proud of the experience at Palazzo Strozzi. We collaborated with the curators of the exhibit in order to render the idea tangible - a parallel between the 1930s and today. Digital manufacturing allows us to return to self-production. Making objects within the privacy of one's own home is something that fascinates visitors to the exhibit. So, we hope that our printer will continue to stimulate the imagination of visitors for the duration of the entire exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi.

We can imagine that the printer will continue to delight! Exhibition-goers can choose to print select items using a tablet-controlled software specially developed for the occasion, and take home free Palazzo Strozzi and other gadgets hot off the printer, like these ones that Lorenzo Cantini is holding in the photo below.

In the context of the exhibit, the printer represents what the future holds, by looking also to the past, in the field of artistic manufacturing (which is the topic of the room). In the 30s the possibilities for reproduction began; now in 2012 there are new ways to reproduce objects.

Mario Radice (Como 1898-Milano 1987), Composizione G.R.U 35/B (Composizione n. 85), 1937; olio su cartone. Photo: Fototeca Musei Civici Como. Fotografia di Aleph s.n.c.

The 30s in Florence was a particularly active period. It was also, as catalogue contributer Susanna Ragionieri explains, the birth of "Made in Italy". What she writes about this period is interesting :

It consisted of an original interpretation of the stimuli coming from the broader European context (from France and Germany, but by extension also from Scandinavia and Russia) together with the exploration and revisitation of an (Italian 14th and 15th century) tradition viewed through the filter of a tendency towards essential purity of form, often veined with a subtle feeling of restlessness, mediated by Valori Plastici and Magical Realism in the previous decade.

Here we are in the 20-teens, and the Maker movement in Italy is doing something similar: reinterpreting a movement born in the States, with injections from northern European design, but reinterpreting it, just as designers in the 1930s did, in a purely Italian form... which is precisely the interest of MakeTank.

Pippo Rizzo, Il nomade,1929. Photo: Civita Sicilia

Photo credits: Photos of the museum display are by Simone Boiocchi, used with permission. Images from the exhibition courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi press office.


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