Sure, the Scandinavian and American designers of the midcentury knew how to fill a room, but how many Eames chairs and Saarinen tables can a person own? Those with a taste for modernist furniture but not for conformity should turn to the Italians--and to Brian Kish, a sometime Londoner, current New Yorker and longtime Milan watcher. Kish owns a tiny, year-old eponymous gallery in Manhattan's SoHo that specializes in the work of Italian Rationalists, a band of forward-looking architects obsessed with clean lines who shook up Milan and the rest of the decorative-arts world from the Forties through the Sixties.
Before studying to be an art historian, Kish worked in a contemporary-art gallery in London, where the focus was on "all the latest from Milan," he says. He eventually moved to New York and spent almost a decade collecting and later dealing privately in midcentury Italian furniture before opening to the public last summer. All the pieces in the gallery were made by postwar Milanese designers, from the dining chairs, credenzas and coffee tables to the silverware, glass decanters and ceramic vases.
Many items, like the octagonal rosewood top of an exquisite tea cart designed by Ico Parisi in 1959, look a lot like Scandinavian objects of the same vintage, but the Italian pieces are more influenced by classical motifs. The octagon, Kish points out, was a favorite form in the Renaissance that was borrowed and adapted by many 20th-century designers. And although most modernists were trying to dispense with the past altogether, "much of Italian modernism," Kish says, "is about distorting classical forms."