Andrea Scarabelli takes a curator's approach with 1+1 Historical Design Gallery

Design Italian Style

By Audrey Kadjar

Operating as an online gallery specialized in 20th-century Italian design, 1+1 Historical Design Gallery offers an impressive selection of works by iconic talents, from Franco Albini and Osvaldo Borsani to Gabriella Crespi and Ettore Sottsass. Yet beyond the quality of the collection, the Milan-based gallery also organizes well researched exhibitions, often exploring territory at the intersection of art and design. Wonder Modern is 1+1's latest such project, bringing together furniture, lighting, and decorative objects alongside contemporary architectural photography on the occasion of the Biennale Architettura 2018 in Venice.

We caught up with the gallery’s idealist and entrepreneurial founder, Andrea Scarabelli, to learn more about his curatorial approach to dealing vintage design.

Audrey Kadjar: When did you first get interested in design and how did it lead you to open a gallery specializing in Italian pieces from the 20th century?

Andrea Scarabelli: Though I first worked in book publishing for years, I have always been passionate about art and design. I am a native Milanese, and in my hometown design and architecture are everywhere. You engage with it even when you just go for a walk. As I attended exhibitions and fairs, I understood that I had a stronger interest in historical design than in the contemporary scene. I love many contemporary designers too, but I think there was a golden age in the mid-20th century, especially in Italy from the 1940s to the 1960s, and particularly in Milan.

In the early 2010s, I started acquiring pieces for myself, and I soon felt the need to start offering pieces to collectors. I am not a real collector—I don’t need to own a lot of pieces myself—but I like to acquire and study them and then find other persons that can appreciate them. After working as a partner for another gallery, I quickly decided to branch out on my own, because I wanted to have a personal take on the business. I was not only interested in selling pieces but also in offering them according to evolving curatorial guidelines. I was eager to organize specific projects that respond to contemporary aesthetics and practices.

I think a dealer’s role is to be a filter for clients. It’s about selecting and fighting fakes and misattributions. AK: What motivated you to open an online gallery instead of a physical space?

AS: Operating online allows me to have so much freedom! A physical space limits you, and although I might open one in the future, I prefer this formula for now. I actually get the best of both worlds: organizing site specific exhibitions in relation to design periods and art events, while avoiding the constraints of having to manage a physical space and engage with people IRL.

AK:  What are the biggest challenges for you in running a vintage design gallery?

AS: You always have to find the balance between acquiring too many pieces and acquiring too little. You also have to be very careful to avoid fake pieces. I think a dealer’s role is to be a filter for clients. It’s about selecting and fighting fakes and misattributions. Unfortunately, sometimes I see dealers doing the opposite.

AK:  How do you source pieces? Do you have specific criterias or do you operate with an instinctual approach?

AS: Sourcing is key. I don’t have specific pieces in mind, but I do follow a few guidelines: I mostly source lighting; I prefer the period from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s; I favor specific Italian designers; and I try to avoid average pieces. And sometimes I'm attracted to the unexpected. I've bought pieces that I still can’t attribute—which has resulted in long hours researching. It’s not always successful, but it’s part of the game.

AK:  What attracts you the most to midcentury Italian design?

AS: In Italy just after the Second World War, so many of the designs resulted from an extraordinary collaboration between enlightened entrepreneurs, visionary architects, imaginative designers, and outstanding artists.

AK: Which pieces have brought you the most joy?

AS: All my Gino Sarfatti pieces! In my opinion, his lighting is among the greatest of all time.

AK: Who are your favorite designers?

AS: Sarfatti again. His pieces are timeless—technical but poetic.

AK: Tell us more about Wonder Modern, which you've recently organized for the Venice Architecture Biennale. What led you to explore the relationships between architecture and design in the aftermath of WWII through the lens of three contemporary Italian photographers?

AS: It all started when I got the chance to organize a temporary design exhibition on the occasion of this year's Architecture Biennale in a one-of-a-kind location on the Zattere promenade—this space is a typical Venetian interior, with wooden beams and marble wainscoting, which was opened for the first time in many years for my project. I knew I wanted to showcase a selection of pieces by Franco Albini, Osvaldo Borsani, Gino Sarfatti, along with BBPR , Luigi Caccia Dominioni , Max Ingrand.

But I also wanted to have a more direct architectural approach, to have a stronger connection with the Biennale. So I commissioned the curators Federica Rasenti and Giulia Ricci to create a complementary exhibition that would aim at uncovering the relationship between episodes of Italian modern architecture and the design culture of the time. They chose the three architectural photographers, who each shot a picture specifically for this project: Francesca Iovene chose the Church of San Giovanni Bono by Arrigo Arrighetti in Milan; Giovanna Silva chose Casa alle Zattere by Ignazio Gardella, in Venice a few meters away from the exhibition’s location; and Federico Torra chose Casa Bertolotto-Dondo in Bargeggi.

AK: Lovely! Are you already planning more exhibitions? What can we expect next from 1+1 Historical Design Gallery?

AS: Of course! The main focus of the gallery will always be to source beautiful and authentic pieces for collectors and professionals. But an important part of its mission is also to cast new light on the pieces. This time, it was with architectural photography; but next time it could be with contemporary art or design, or even something else. For me, there are no boundaries in culture, art, and creative expression.

AK:  Lastly, just to tap into you're great taste, we'd love to know your top decorating tips!

AS: First, take it slow. Don’t furnish an entire interior at once. Second, great design is important, but it’s better to have a few goods pieces than a dozen of mid-range ones. Next, give space to breathe—don’t pack a room with objects and furniture! And finally, of course, stay elegant, but also have fun and be daring. Otherwise what’s the point?


  • Text by

    • Audrey Kadjar

      Audrey Kadjar

      Born in the US to a French family, Audrey grew up in multiple countries. Before landing at Pamono, she studied art history in London and worked in the cultural industry. When she's not working at Pamono, she can be found pursuing art and photography projects.