Microart by Bruno Munari

Microart by Bruno Munari

Munari, Bruno (1907–1998). Four original constructions sent as holiday cards, a TLS, and two broadsides from the files of his translator, Maria Cimino, 1954–1963.  Seven items in fine condition.

A wonderful little archive of small original constructions by the great Milanese graphic designer, the founder of Movimento Arte Concreta. Beginning his career in 1927 among the Futurists, Munari broke with Marinetti in the mid-1930s. From 1938 to the late 1940s he worked for Mondadori and developed a distinctive style based on stark design, simple colors, geometrical forms, and absolute clarity. Picasso called him “the Leonardo of our time.”

Munari’s approach lent itself well to children’s books, and he produced many throughout the decades, beginning – as Giorgio Maffei has argued – as early as 1929, though most bibliographies start with his productions of the early 1940s. It was in this context that he met Maria Cimino (the sister of the actor Leonardo Cimino, incidentally), who presided over the New York Public Library's Central Children's Room in its heyday. She worked closely with a number of authors and illustrators, promoting their works in articles and reviews for the Horn Book and other publications. For the library she developed a large collection of foreign language children’s books. She translated children’s books (beginning with The armadillo and the monkey by Luis Jardim, Coward-McCann, 1942) and published a collection of her own stories, The Disobedient Eel and Other Italian Tales (Pantheon, 1970).

Munari was one of the authors Cimino translated. She sung his praises in a 1956 article on his children’s books:

Among the most original, imaginative, and beautiful picture books ever made of those of Bruno Munari. . . . [His] greatness lies . . . in his view of the world, which is personal and poetic. His extraordinary originality and his rightness as a creator of children’s books rests on the fact that for all his technical proficiency and plastic skills he has been able to retain the fresh eye of childhood and an untrammeled imagination.


The following year Cimino would publish three translations of Munari’s works with World Publishers, introducing his art to anglophone readers.

The small constructions Munari prepared as holiday cards for Cimino, works of what (in Design as Art) he called “micro-art,” evince the same ludic pedagogy found in his books, many of which contained mechanical elements designed to engage the imagination, and indeed the collaboration, of his young readers. Indeed, these card most resemble his Libri illeggibili, the products of his ongoing experiments with materials, where shapes, design, and the dynamics of interaction obviated the need for words. In those works, as in these cards, the element of surprise was key. As Munari wrote in I Prelibri (1980), “La conoscenza è sempre una sorpresa, se uno vede quello che già sa, non c'è sorpresa.” (“Knowledge is always a surprise; if you see something you already know, there is no surprise.”) 

A marvelous collection of original works and associated materials, with a superb provenance.

Contents of the Archive

1.  Holiday card consisting of a single sheet of folded red paper with an original construction in the interior – a pine sprig with yellow and purple overlays, and the handwritten sentiment “gli auguri di MUNARI – 1954.” A deliberate hole torn to rear of the red paper offers a glimpse of the construction inside. The paper is addressed to Cimino on one side.

2.  Holiday card consisting of three folded pieces of tissue paper (making six pages) within card covers. Holes have been torn in the cover and each page to reveal a star pasted on rear inside cover. Undated, but probably 1955.

3.  Original Construction of a helicopter toy made of wood and rice paper, with handwritten sentiment, “1956 auguri volanti di MUNARI.” Laid in printed Munari studio card, with original envelope.

4.  Munari: ricostruzioni teoriche di oggetti immaginari. Folded flyer for an exposition of Munari’s work at the St. Babila library, Milan, 20 Oct-6 Nov 1956.

5.  New Year’s card consisting of four acetate separations with colored polka dots and the legend “Auguri Munari 1957-1958.” In original envelope with holograph sentiment to verso (“Happy days – molti cari auguri. MUNARI”) 

6.  Look What We Found in Italy [1957]. Flyer for three children’s books by Munari translated by Cimino and published by the World Publishing Company: Animals for Sale; Tic, Tac, and Toc; and Who’s There? Open the Door! With Cimino’s holograph note (“Broadsides for the Munari books I translated”).

7.  TLS to Cimino, 12 March 1963. A short but rich letter. Munari discusses the photographer Aaron Siskind and their common interest in kinetic art (“arte programmata”), his forthcoming book, Munari’s Zoo, and his recent experiments in experimental cinema. He has enclosed a filmstrip with four images of a color abstraction. With original envelope.

Selected References

  • Campagnaro, Marnie. The Function of Play in Bruno Munari’s Children’s Books. A Historical Overview,” Ricerche di Pedagogia e Didattica 11:3 (2016) 93f
  • Cimino, Maria. “The Picture Books of Bruno Munari,” in Reading without Boundaries: Essays Presented to Anne Carroll Moore on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Inauguration of Library Service to Children at the New York Public Library, ed. Frances Lander Spain (New York: NYPL, 1956), pp. 585f.
  • Maffei, Giorgio. Munari’s Books (Princeton Architectural Press, 2015)
  • Munari, Bruno. I prelibri (Milano: Danese, 1980).
  • -----. Animals for saletr. Maria Cimino (New York: World, 1957)
  • -----. Tic, Tac, and Toctr. Maria Cimino (New York: World, 1957)
  • -----. Who's there? Open the door!, tr. Maria Cimino (New York: World, 1957)

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