On Bikes & The Bauhaus
From Issue 90 • Words by James Startt
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For generations of cyclists, Columbus has stood out as the quality of reference in steel frame tubing. And even today, while carbon has displaced steel on the professional road scene, an entire generation is discovering the products of this historic Italian giant from fixies to endurance bikes. In short, the brand’s logo—a distinctive white dove against a red oval—remains a true reference in the cycling industry. But while it is often overlooked today, when Angelo Luigi Colombo founded his steel tubing company back in 1919, he saw steel tubing as a vector for modern design, from automotive design to architecture to interior design to the bicycle.
And now, on the eve of the company’s centennial, Angelo Luigi’s son Antonio is organizing four exhibitions in Milan to celebrate the company’s history. As owner of Columbus tubing and Cinelli bicycles, Antonio Colombo is a prominent figure in cycling. But for decades he has also fostered a reputation in the art world as a collector, not to mention founder of the Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea Gallery in Milan. And it is here where four shows will outline the story of his family’s steel tubing company over the last century.
Three of the shows will be devoted to cycling but for the first one Colombo is focusing on another key element in the company’s history: furniture design. For a relatively short but crucial moment in the company’s history, Columbus steel tubing worked closely with the avant-garde of interior design as its tubes offered the key structural and support elements of modern furniture through the mid-20th century.
“Flessibili splendori: Columbus and the tubular steel furniture” is dedicated to the company’s involvement and creation of steel tube furniture. Partnering with the Swiss company Wohnbedarf in 1933, Columbus was on the cutting edge of modern furniture design. The collaboration allowed it to work with designers like Marcel Breuer, who worked closely with Walter Gropius and taught at the historic Bauhaus. Breuer’s tubular chairs like the classic Cesca Chair or the more elegant Wassily Chair, admired by one of his Bauhaus mentors Wassily Kandinsky, are nothing short of icons of 20th century furniture design and are still widely produced today.
The exhibit, which runs until October 26, has plenty of Breuerstyled chairs, but also tables, shelves and umbrella holders as well as images, posters and advertisements from the 1930s and ’40s. Some of the pieces almost appear commonplace today. After all the Breuer chairs are still produced around the world and are appreciated for their simple elegance and functionality. And as was often the case in 20th century architecture and design, form did truly follow function.
It comes of little surprise to discover that both the Bauhaus and Columbus are celebrating their centennials this year, as both were founded in 1919 on the heels of World War I. The Bauhaus was one of the lasting achievements of Germany’s Weimar Republic, as Gropius and his colleagues ushered in a stripped-down formalism that permeated a wide range of disciplines from art to architecture to design and crafts.
The involvement with Columbus tubing started in 1933, when the Bauhaus was actually closed from pressure by the Nazis in Germany. But its ideas continued to spread around the world as many of the school’s masters soon found work in other European countries or in the United States.
The collaboration with Columbus was also relatively short-lived, as the company closed out the furniture production shortly after the end of World War II. But for nearly 15 years one of the true giants of the cycling industry worked closely with giants of international design and “Flessibili splendori: Columbus and the tubular steel furniture” celebrates this particular aspect of Columbus’ golden history.
Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, Via Solferino 44, 20121 Milan firstname.lastname@example.org
Sept 26–Oct 26. “Flessibili splendori: Columbus and the tubular steel furniture”
Nov 7–Dec 5. “Anima d’Acciaio: Columbus and the Bicycle Design”
Jan 16–Feb 15, 2020: “Dentro Il Tubo: Columbus and Technological Innovation in Special Tubing Production”
Feb 27– Mar 28, 2020: “Traguardo Volante: Columbus and Cinelli, Crossing The Line Between Art and Bicycle”