Gillo Dorfles, the father of Italian visual culture

Gillo Dorfles is an ultra-centenarian art critic who, like me, hails from Trieste. We have known each other for many years. I feel genuine affection for Gillo: he is a grand old man, both pensive and dynamic. I feel that we truly have a lot in common: the same hometown, the same love for art and design, and a certain way of looking to the future objectively yet idealistically – because our vision of the future must be clothed in ambitious dreams that can become reality. I have great respect for him and for those like him who dedicate their life to pursuing an art, an ideal, and who contemplate the changing world and occasionally try to orient this change, as well.

He was born in 1910 and yet his extraordinary memory has become neither tarnished nor impaired over the years; he generously and willingly shares his memories with others, giving them the impression of being in the presence of a rare living encyclopedia and a witness to the many cultural movements of the 20th century, in particular from the post-war period on.


As an art critic, Gillo has contributed greatly to contemporary art. But he is more than just an art critic, he is an artist, intellectual, art sociologist and aesthetics academic; his mental vivacity has strongly influenced his physical vitality, and vice versa.

I regularly encounter Gillo at cultural events in Milan: he is a force of nature. I think what sustains him is his aversion for today’s muddled modernity (to which he does not relate) and his frustration with the ugliness he sees around him. We talk about this sometimes. He believes that contemporary art has completely lost its connection with nature, a former source of inspiration and beauty. Today, the aesthetics of art have expanded to include disgust and ugliness; the intention is to provoke the spectator and attract attention through the outcry over a proliferating and occasionally disagreeable and brutal taste in art. “Beauty exists today and beauty will exist always,” says Gillo about the ongoing evolution of art. “Unless the world becomes so ‘brutish’ that it transforms men into ‘brutes.’”

illycaffè is the main sponsor of the one-man show “Gillo Dorfles. Essere nel tempo”, the first major retrospective to celebrate Dorfles’ art and his thinking. The exhibit will run until March 13, 2016 at MACRO – the Rome Contemporary Art Museum. This is the first anthological exhibition to pay tribute to the entire work of this renowned father of Italian visual culture, covering his artistic output, critical thinking and aesthetic theories. For the occasion, Gillo has designed the new illy Art Collection, drawing inspiration from several of his decorative designs for fabric, made on paper between 1937 and 1940using the egg oil tempera emulsion technique – one used long ago by the great 15th-century masters. In his illy Art Collection, the forms and colors of his imaginative universe continue to serve as the hallmark of his poetics.The collection had its world premiere at the preview of his solo exhibition in Rome and the cups will go on sale to the public in February 2016.


photo credits @illycaffè

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