He likes to offer “curated” interiors for his clients, but this time Charles Zana has become a curator for the Tornabuoni Art gallery. Founded in Florence in 1981 by Roberto Casamonti, the gallery, which specialises in post-war Italian art, presents the aptly named Utopia exhibition in its Parisian annexe. A unique project, conceived and designed by the renowned architect, based on the idea of dialogue. The dialogue between the most celebrated Italian artists and architects between the 1950s and 1970s, through an exceptional selection of some forty works of art, design and furniture. So until 21 December, in a series of intimate salons, we will be able to admire “pairs” of pieces, highlighting the relationship between some of the most celebrated names of the past. Michele de Lucchi and Alberto Burri, Gino Sarfatti and Paolo Scheggi, Carlo Scarpa and Dadamaino to name but a few. Ettore Sottsass will also be represented. Charles Zana was captivated by this pioneering genius. To such an extent that he has been collecting treasures for years, from prototypes to lighting and some iconic ceramic totems. A passion for the visionary who inspired him to indulge freely in the use of colours and ancient cultures in his work. Even though Charles Zana was raised by a collector father with whom he scoured the galleries of the 8th arrondissement on Saturdays, his education was built on the basis of the different lives he has led. That of a student, already overwhelmed by painting, who graduated from the Beaux-Arts de Paris before flying to New York. An incredible cultural environment that he left to earn his title of Registered Architect (DPLG ). Another of his many facets, which marked the beginning of his current career. The one that today is putting his name to projects all over the world, each time writing a new story “by giving it a greater conceptual value”. We meet in the maestro’s showroom-gallery. A passionate man, transfixed by Italy, with a precise but, above all, precious sense of detail. The proof in images, with this treasure chest full of references, both confidential and signed, as attested by the huge velvet Alexandra sofa around which we are uniquely gathered today.
The Utopia exhibition, from 18 October to 21 December at the Tornabuoni Art Gallery. Passage de Retz, 9, Rue Charlot – 75003 Paris.
Charles, can you introduce yourself, please?
After studying at the Beaux-Arts fine art school in Paris, I spent two years in New York working in various architecture and design studios. It was at that time that, through a series of pivotal meetings, I began to work as an interior designer. When I returned in 1988, I worked for two years with Bernard Fric at Asymétrie on decoration projects and international exhibitions. Then, in 1990, I created my own agency, Charles Zana Architects, which gave me the opportunity to develop my vision. That of an art lover and collector who is fond of design, who knows how to talk about it and how to extract the essential lessons from it. I like to highlight the works of my client-collectors by guiding their gaze as an exhibition curator might. By referring to sculpture, abstraction, drawing and artistic installation, I am able to create a new narrative in each project, giving it a greater conceptual value. Because beyond the profession of architect or decorator, I like to offer “curated”, artistic and meaningful interiors, which are, at the same time, warm and adapted to the lives of their occupants.
You are a passionate architect, designer and collector: what do you like to do most in your life?
The thing I am most passionate about in my work is the genesis of projects. That moment when we visit a place for the first time when we draw the first sketches and write the first words of a project. I’ve been doing my job for 30 years to experience these magical moments. It’s my adrenaline. For me, as a collector, it is the search for pieces that drives me, not possession.
Who inspires you in your work?
I’ve been passionate about art and design since I was a child. I also take inspiration from my travels, from what I have the opportunity to see, to visit, as well as from my family, from my emotions, or from the shows or films I go to see.
Why are you so fascinated by Italy and the work of particular architect-designers?
This country has always had a special place in my life. For its culture, the beauty of its landscapes, its history, its cuisine, of course, but also for the diversity of its regions and for this formidable post-war cultural movement that challenged the established rules. Based on a very powerful furniture industry, Italian architects invented what is now called design. I like this mixture of classicism and madness of Italian furniture. I particularly like the drawing of Caccia Dominioni, the luminous madness of Gino Sarfatti, the Dadaist baroque of Alessandro Mendini, the childish naiveté of Bruno Munari, the clear humanism of Andrea Branzi, the gift of harmony of Michele De Lucchi and, last but not least, the absolute genius of Ettore Sottsass!
Is there a room you dream of having one day?
I dream of one day living in Sottsass’s Mobili Grigi bedroom, which, for me, corresponds to the Utopian dream of the 1970s of changing the world.
Do you speak Italian?
That’ s a good question and, to my great regret, I can’t say I do yet… but I promise, I’ll start classes in January!
Which is the project that most represents your world?
The next one, of course! Seriously though, all my projects are representative of me. Each one is a part of my styl
What do you dream about?
One of my wildest dreams was to bring the 15 Italian architects and 15 post-war Italian artists who most fascinated me together in one exhibition. I was finally able to make this dream come true with the Tornabuoni Art gallery, which will host the Utopia exhibition from 18 October to 21 December.
Would you have a good restaurant to recommend in Paris, or elsewhere?
Le Petit Lutétia and Le Grand Véfour in Paris.
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily