AG Fronzoni — Design, voice of the love verb

AG Fronzoni: Design, voice of the love verb.

The history of design is something quite recent. Most art historians state that the history of design is still in the process of being written, analyzed and recorded. In a profession where communications is the main focus, one name has been forgotten simply because the designer refused to write a single word about his life’s work. I would like to introduce this a man that should be considered as a newcomer to the history of design.

Angiolo Giuseppe Fronzoni (1923-2002) was an Italian publisher, industrial designer, graphic designer, architect and professor living most of his life in Milan, Italy.

His work is considered close to the Minimal Art Movement that rose after World War II. The minimal vision was completely embedded in a complete personal philosophy. He described himself in this way “I’m just a brand called A. G. Fronzoni.” His wardrobe was free of colors, he avoided them and chose to wear black and white. He preferred walking and public transportation like trains, over the use of the automobile. He encouraged his students to cook their own meals over the use of packaged, readymade foods. While these stories maybe mere legends, it does give some insight into understanding the man.

After World War II, Northern Italy was the main stage of economic activity for the country. Because this region was convergence of various industries and financial forces, it was a gathering place for some of the most important artists and designers all of Italy. In this setting, Fronzoni began his career as reporter and typographer for the local left wing L’Unità newspaper in Brescia. (This political preference was not a determining point, but during all his life, he kept the same interest for this political choice). Being close to Switzerland, Italian designers were influenced by Swiss graphic design style as well as modernist industrial design from Germany and the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark?)

Global Design
“Designing the page of a book is like planning a city.”
Fronzoni started designing in 1945 in his studio in Brescia. Since this date, there were no boundaries between the different areas of his work: graphic poster design, industrial design such as that of a chair, and architecture.
In 1947 he founded and edited the art and literature journal “Punta”. This short experience as a publisher later in 1965, helped him to become the editor and art director of “Casabella”, one of the most important architectural magazine, still published today.

“We need to aim at essential things, to remove every redundant effects, every useless flowering, to elaborate a concept on mathematical bases, on fundamental ideas, on elementary structures; we strongly need to avoid waste and excess.”
During the 1950’s Fronzoni’s graphic design style was still influenced by the Swiss school. A decade after, in the 1960s, his style transformed into something very personal, radical and free. In a way, the American minimalist artists were of more influence to him than the Italian Designers of his time. Fronzoni’s goal of a minimal design took the form of geometrical, mostly typographical, black & white design.

The modern Socrates
From 1967 to 2001, Fronzoni taught design in several schools & institutions in Milan. During all these years, he only taught orally, refusing to use writing for communicating his thoughts. In the testimonials given by his students remain the memories of a human being able to give more than professional skills.

“In the workshop box where I teach, young people often come to me asking advices. Firstly, I tell them: Design must not be understood as a simple professional activity, but it is primarily a way of life, a way of relating oneself to life, and a choice of behaviour. A design’s most profound meaning is not so much that of building a house, but primarily building ourselves. And I also tell these young people that the design of their existence is the commitment which must be their main preoccupation; this commitment had to be continuous and total, not transitory and relative. Giulio Carlo Argan used to say that those who forgo design accept being designed. This is a phrase which everyone should bear in mind, with all its relative implications: the objectives, the meanings, the aspiration to take more care of our own existence, and to helps others to realize themselves. It is only at this stage that one may conceive how to tackle other projects, architectural designs, and any other design theme.”
In Domus magazine, March 1995

Black & White
“…My language is black-and-white. Far from depriving us of colour – the black and the white demarcate the extreme poles in a space, where it is held and sheltered. And yet, the colours aren’t simply there. Only as we engage the space and become active do we uncover the colour in it: the space is generous. But the colour begs to be configured. Colour isn’t outside of us: it is intrinsic. Colour – that is us.” 
In Zurich Museum fur Gestaltung’s publication Poster Collection, Volume 8: “Black and white”, published by Lars Müller Publishers, 2003.

Client’s needs
“My personal choice is the act of designing, intended as transgression – designing as an attempt to open a horizon of action, to give structure, to be coherent and rational, and to bear witness to the responsibility to the human world and its future. Designing not to serve the client’s needs, but to eliminate them.” 
In “AG Fronzoni: They thought I was crazy, but they went along with it”, Lars Müller Publishers, Baden 1998.

Designing a poster could be putting together signs, types and pictures to express an idea or communicate informations. But for him, the poster is more than this rectangle of paper printed and glued on a wall. Fronzoni was looking for more: die cut, folding or even sculptural installation. Many of his posters were out of the usual standards and become art piece, like the artists he designed those posters.

AG Fronzoni died at 5 p.m. on the afternoon of Friday, February 8, at his home in Milan, Italy opposite the garden of Leonardo. He was 78 years old. On February 27, at 5 p.m.. On March 9, 60 of his students gathered to share his memory.
He was remembered in his memorial ceremony as a person who sought beauty.


Portrait by Bernd Kuchenbeiser.

Text by Sébastien Hayez – 2014