Bitossi Archive Museum: a Century of Ceramics

Take a peek at the Bitossi Museum, opened to celebrate the brand's centenary in Montelupo Fiorentino, Tuscany. Colorful ceramics of the Bitossi archive become art pieces, embodying the cultural heritage and know-how of the Italian craft tradition. Read our interview with Bitossi art director Ginevra Bocini to discover 100 years of colorful history and take a journey through the space.

For its 100th anniversary, Bitossi founded a corporate museum designed and curated by architect Luca Cappelletti. Located in the former production space, the exhibition venue of 1500 square meters preserves the original industrial architecture. Walking through the exhibition path, one can admire the entire archive made of 7,000 pieces: a selection of prototypes and forms, work tools, photographs, and drawings gathered into a picture gallery. 

The setup is the result of museography and curatorial research, lining up a variety of colorful pieces on site-specific fir-wood shelving. Exceptional creations like Rimini by Aldo Londi, the Totems by Ettore Sottsass, or the work Il dormiente con il coccodrillo (Sleeping ones and crocodiles) by Mimmo Paladino stand out at the center of the space, standing out for their uniqueness and dimensions. The last shelf is kept empty to leave room for new creative productions and collaborations.

The exhibition is an immersive experience into the history of the brand and its collaboration with a multitude of design icons: ​Ettore Sottsass​Nathalie Du Pasquier, George J. Sowden, Marco Zanini, Christoph Radl, ​Michele De Lucchi​Karim Rashid, Arik Levy, ​Fabio Novembre.

How did you come up with the idea of celebrating Bitossi’s 100th anniversary by establishing a museum and why did you choose the interior of the former Bitossi factory as the exhibit space?

It was my mother Cinzia Bitossi’s wish to start this project many years ago. The goal was to create a collection that chronicled the production of the historic factory founded in 1921 by Guido Bitossi. The collection includes over 7,000 ceramic pieces and paper files - projects, drawings, workbooks, administrative and commercial documents, photographs - documenting a century of history. After the first small exhibitions of all the collected materials, my family established the Vittoriano Bitossi Foundation in 2008 for the safeguard, conservation, and cultural and scientific promotion of the Bitossi Industrial Archive.

Later on, I promoted the idea of transforming the archive into a museum using the same location that only five years earlier had housed part of the manufacturing production. I wanted the historical collection to remain right where it had been actually created: a space reclaimed as “industrial archeology” that becomes a story in and of itself. It is a single project that documents the past and the present of a company celebrating its first centenary in 2021. The setup was designed by architect Luca Cippelletti of the ArchiT studio in Milan, whereas the lighting was curated by Venetian architect Alberto Pasetti Bombardella. 

Bitossi embodies a specific heritage and savoir-faire emerging from the coalescence of design, art, and craftsmanship. How does the Bitossi Museum communicate your brand's identity?

The museum/archives show our identity through the products themselves, which become both documents and evidence of the process and all that which revolves around their production: from the raw materials to the human and professional experience, from marketing to sales. Everything serves as strategic communication linked to the brand, as a synthesis of its history, memory, and research projected into the future.

"The greatest challenge for a business museum is to focus on beauty, to promote Italian style through new perspectives and directions, where it is possible to encounter expressions of culture and creativity. The Archivio Museo Bitossi represents first and foremost the corporate identity, it is the custodian and disseminator of memory, the repository of industrial culture, it is entrusted with the task of telling the story and the transformation from the past to the present day."

Bitossi’s pieces created in collaboration with designers can be considered works of art. Which one do you think is the most iconic object in your archive and how do you present these special pieces along the exhibition itinerary?

There are countless iconic elements presented in the exhibition itinerary created by Bitossi historic director Aldo Londi, architect Ettore Sottsass, and many others.

Bitossi's icon par excellence is the legendary "Rimini Blu" series created by Londi in 1959 which has since never gone out of production, with millions of pieces sold worldwide. It was created for an American client, a tribute to the color of the deep blue sea, to the Romagna coast - which, at the time, evoked the image of "the good life and the Italian dolce vita" for international tourism - a charming place especially for Americans who included it in the Italian Grand Tour. It was the location celebrated by Fred Buscaglione in the song "Remember Rimini" released the same year. The exhibition has an entire shelf dedicated to this Persian blue color, featuring very unusual and sculptural elements.

Another icon is the black and white series by architect Ettore Sottsass, created in 1959 for the exhibition at the Galleria Il Sestante in Milan and since then produced regularly. Sottsass had established a special relationship both with my family and Aldo Londi, so we wanted to dedicate different sections in the Archive to him: a setting at the entrance with pieces from special collections and a display along the exhibition itinerary. 

Bright and bold colors are Bitossi’s distinctive elements. What role does color play in your artistic production and what is its emotional power in the perception of space?

In 1947, a chemical laboratory was built inside the factory, which in a few short years became the Colorobbia ceramic paint factory. Londi recognized its enormous potential as a place of experimentation to develop more and more colors for commercial products.

One perceives the powerful emotional impact of color as soon as they set foot into the Archive: in the very first aisle there is an overview running from the 1920s to the end of the 1960s. As such, not only color but style is also in constant evolution.

What has been the evolution of your artistic production in its 100 years of history?

From earthenware to glazed ceramic, from majolica to fire clay with unpredictable textures: painted, engraved, scratched, graffitte, bugnato, cariolato, et al. It is a world made of continuous study, research, and immense passion that has been handed down for generations. I represent the fourth generation of the family in the artistic direction of the company and I am very proud of my past.

How do you balance innovation and tradition and what are your plans for the future?

The Archive represents the identity and history of our company, of an Italian venture: it is a story of renewal and appreciation of a business culture that connects history with the future. I could compare the Archive to a fertile land: it passes down its know-how through a technical and stylistic evolution, and artists and designers tap into it to draw inspiration for new collections, delving into a century of history made by those designers who have collaborated with Bitossi.

All our catalog collections result from a strong craftsmanship tradition. Today, we still work as we did a century ago: each new collection presents a challenge until the optimal result is achieved, and we never neglect the functional element, which, rightly, should never be overlooked. There is a very important sculptural and material aspect in the crafting process that is linked to research into colors of glazes and crystalline with glossy or matte finishes. 

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