Man's great adventure of discovery (1906–1990)

The exhibition 'Esploratori 2.0 CAPITANI CORAGGIOSI' (Explorers 2.0 CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS) opens at the MUDEC in Milan on 28 September. It has been chosen by the Museo delle Culture to celebrate the Italian 20th century, as part of the artistic and cultural programme that the Milan City Council is dedicating in 2018 to this important historical and artistic period. The show investigates the frontiers of exploration from the 20th century to the present: summits, space and the depths of the earth. In other words, the last geographical frontiers probed by professional explorers during a period – from the early decades of the 20th century to the present – when the land mass had already been mapped by 19th-century pioneers. In fact, once the exploration of the continents was complete and tourism, albeit elite, had been invented, the only challenges left for professional explorers and scientists in the 20th century were the summits, the depths, caves and, above all, the skies and space. The conquest of the Poles also occupied an important place in this epoch. Photographs, films and memorabilia of famous expeditions from the permanent collection of the Museo delle Culture in Milan, will enable the public to follow the evolution of the concept of ‘exploration’ in the last century. The exhibition focuses on the conquests that had their beginnings in Lombardy, and also considers the future of exploration and the study of geography in today’s world, where, with the aid of technology, the ‘spatial dimension’ has become pivotal to the changes taking place in our society. Curated by the scientific committee composed of Franco Farinelli, Anna Maria Montaldo, Carolina Orsini and Anna Antonini, and promoted by Milan City Council – Culture, the show will run until 10 February 2019. MUDEC is the ideal museum to host an exhibition on the frontiers of geography. Indeed, the Museo delle Culture’s permanent collection is strictly linked to the history of exploration, – a concept that also underpins its civic collections. The first nucleus of the artistic legacy held by the Museo delle Culture is composed of around 8000 items consisting in artworks, everyday objects, fabrics and musical instruments from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. These were mostly collected within the ambit of expeditions that took place in the 19th century, which saw a marked increase in field research carried out by scientists, missionaries and even occasional travellers who set off from Lombardy, and Milan in particular. Objects yielded by the various expeditions to the farthest corners of the Earth arrived regularly at the Museo di Storia Naturale in Milan, and were transferred to the Museo delle Culture in 2015. Five aspects of exploration are analyzed in as many sections.

Vistors are welcomed by an introductory display case that explains the reasons for holding an exhibition on exploration and geography at the Museo delle Culture. They can also follow the remarkable endeavours of Fabio Ala Ponzone, who took over Alessandro Malaspina’s search for the North West Passage, and of Gaetano Osculati, who discovered the source of the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon.

In Italy the entire 20th century was dominated by the maps produced with remarkable accuracy by the national Military Geographic Institute (IGM), first through field surveys and then by interpreting aerial photographs. While these maps were always intended for specialists, the launch of the Google Earth app created a boom in mapping for everyone. Now, thanks to this app, anyone is able to study the Earth’s surface, free of charge, both in the form of a map or through satellite images. In the last decade we have seen an exponential increase in the uses of georeferencing. but sometimes with negative outcomes. For example, the loss of our capacity to read maps because we have become used to moving with a click, guided by an electronic navigator.

This section examines the exploration of high altitudes, through three forays into mountaineering, aviation and astronomy.
There are three interesting aspects to the exploration of mountains. Initially, the climber combined the challenge of scaling a peak with study. In the 20th century, however, the communication of the feat and the glory that the mountaineer brought to his county also became important. The Italian conquest of K2 embodies all these aspects. The first Italian expedition was led by the Duke of the Abruzzi – who identified the best route to the summit (the Abruzzi Spur) – and was followed, two decades later, by the one undertaken by the Duke of Spoleto, mainly for scientific purposes. Ardito Desio developed his mountaineering skills on this expedition, and 30 years later planned the first successful ascent to the summit of K2 – still considered one of the most difficult climbs in the world – which was consequently dubbed the “Mountain of the Italians”.
At the beginning of the 20th century flying was all the rage. Milan's aircraft industry and technology enabled it to play a leading role from the outset. Celestino Usuelli was the first to cross the Alps in an air balloon in 1906, a legendary undertaking which launched the pioneering period of flight that culminated in the famous air races at Brescia in 1909 and 1910, which were real social events. In the following years, Gianni Caproni's company, located at Vizzola Ticino, was among the first to build aircraft industrially, especially war planes. The dirigible expedition to the North Pole led by Umberto Nobile, which also set off from Milan, ended in tragedy, followed by the terrible experience of the crew members marooned on the ice in the famous “red tent”.
Regarding the conquest of space, Italian scientists, and especially those from Lombardy, played an important part in increasing our knowledge of Mars, even though their work was marked more by errors than successes. In this case, the protagonist was the astronomer and science historian Giovanni Schiaparelli who, at the beginning of the 20th century, achieved popular fame for having seen the Martian "canals".

SECTION 4. UNDERGROUND EXPLORATION: CAVES In 1897 the Gruppo Grotte Milano was founded by a number of engineers and geologists who had studied at the Polytechnic. The area they chose to explore was the triangle rich in karst formations between the two arms of Lake Como. The title of a lecture given at the Club Alpino Italiano – CAI by the first president of the group, Prof. Francesco Salmojraghi, is revealing: “Underground Alpinism”. And this was how the mountaineers began to venture underground, with the same spirit (and equipment) with which they scaled peaks. The members of the Gruppo Grotte included personalities of the calibre of Vittorio Bertarelli, founder of the Italian Touring Club and guiding light to Milanese sportsmen of the time. Until the 1960s the group’s activity could be described as pioneering, since its speleologists, who were often professors or professionals from the world of engineering and Earth science, invented and experimented with materials used in exploration. In more recent times, though, they have embarked on specialist undertakings, such as linking the two karst complexes of Grigna and Pian del Tivano by creating an underground path over 64 km long. SECTION 5. GEOGRAPHIES OF THE FUTURE: ANTHROPOLOGY, ART AND VISIONS What is the future of Geography? In the last section of the exhibition we put forward various hypotheses concerning future scenarios involving the concept of geography. A series of interviews with experts of international standing from different sectors, enables us to investigate the future of the discipline from different angles. Chefs and physicists, town planners and artists, developers and explorers, photographers and anthropologists will discuss their vision of physical space in double video interviews, which will be shown in the spectacular curved display case that characterizes the museum space. Scientific Committee: Franco Farinelli, Anna Maria Montaldo, Carolina Orsini, Anna Antonini.

OPENING TIMES: Mon 2.30 pm –7.30 pm
Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun 9.30 am – 7.30 pm
Thur, Sat 9.30 am –10.30 pm