‘Ettore Sottsas – Rebel and Poet’ items from the Vitra Design Museum’s collection

July 20, 2017

A leading figure of the Memphis design collective in the 1980s, the Italian designer was responsible for the designs for the office equipment manufacturer Olivetti and known for his poetic, minimalist sculptural objects – which are now featured in a brand new exhibition at Vitra’s Schaudepot.

Valentine, Typewriter Ettore Sottsass and Perry A. King, 1969 Manufacturer: Olivetti Photo: Alberto Fioravanti Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Valentine, Typewriter. Ettore Sottsass and Perry A. King, 1969 Manufacturer: Olivetti. Photo: Alberto Fioravanti. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

 

This year he would have celebrated his 100th birthday: the Austro-Italian designer Ettore Sottsass (1917–2007), one of the most influential and unconventional figures in twentieth-century design. He gained renown with his designs for the office equipment manufacturer Olivetti, for his poetic, minimalist sculptural objects, and as the leading figure of the Memphis design collective in the 1980s. 


 

Practical Information

Ettore Sottsas – Rebel and Poet
July 14 –  September 29, 2017
Vitra Schaudepot, temporary space
Charles-Eames-Straße 2, Basel
Switzerland

 


Over the course of his long career, Sottsass moved between disciplines, leaving behind a fascinating oeuvre that is represented by many objects in the collection of the Vitra Design Museum. The Vitra Schaudepot exhibition »Ettore Sottsass – Rebel and Poet« presents an overview of approximately 30 of his furniture designs, consumer products, as well as numerous photographs and writings. It pays tribute to an extraordinary designer who did not regard form and function as constraints, but rather viewed design as an opportunity to explore the nature of human existence.

 

Drawing for the lamps Tahiti und Cavalieri, 1981

Drawing for the lamps Tahiti und Cavalieri, 1981

Left: Tahiti, table lamp, 1981, Manufacturer: Memphis Middle: Nr. 20084, Don, table lamp, 1977, Manufacturer: Stilnovo spa Right: Halo Click, table lamp, approx. 1988, Manufacturer: Philips Photo: Jürgen Hans

Left: Tahiti, table lamp, 1981, Manufacturer: Memphis / Middle: Nr. 20084, Don, table lamp, 1977, Manufacturer: Stilnovo spa / Right: Halo Click, table lamp, approx. 1988, Manufacturer: Philips // Photo: Jürgen Hans

Ashoka, table lamp, 1981 Manufacturer: Memphis Photo: Jürgen Hans

Ashoka, table lamp, 1981. Manufacturer: Memphis. Photo: Jürgen Hans

 

Sottsass’s most famous works are his furniture designs for the Memphis group, which created a sensation and ushered in the postmodern aesthetic of the 1980s. The shrill colours, patterns and forms of Memphis objects were inspired by motifs from everyday life, Pop culture and the non-European civilisations encountered by Sottsass during his extensive travels from the 1960s onward. This resulted in iconic objects like the Carlton bookcase (1981), the lamps Ashoka (1981) and Tahiti (1981), and the Tartar table (1985) – expressive objects that sought to communicate with the viewer and liberate themselves from a functionalist design approach.

 

Rocchettone, table, 1965 Manufacturer: Poltronova Photo: Jürgen Hans

Rocchettone, table, 1965. Manufacturer: Poltronova. Photo: Jürgen Hans

Kubirolo, chest of drawers, 1966-1967 Manufacturer: Poltronova Photo: Jürgen Hans

Kubirolo, chest of drawers, 1966-1967. Manufacturer: Poltronova. Photo: Jürgen Hans

 

Yet early signs of the pioneering Memphis aesthetic were already visible in Sottsass’s work from prior decades, beginning in the late 1950s. As Art Director at the furniture manufacturer Poltronova (1958–1974), Sottsass developed a signature style in furniture design by combining vivid colours and distinctive structures. During many decades of work for the office equipment manufacturer Olivetti (starting in 1957), he created legendary objects like the Valentine typewriter (1969), which became a symbol of Pop design.

Sottsass continued his closely observed career path in the 1970s by taking on various roles – as a participant in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition »Italy: The New Domestic Landscape« (1972), as a central figure of the design initiative Global Tools (1973-1975), or as a member of the design collective Alchimia (1976-1980). In all of these activities, Sottsass persistently challenged the established tastes of the middle class by confronting it with his poetic, unorthodox objects.

 

Califfo, couch, 1964 Manufacturer: Poltronova Photo: Jürgen Hans

Califfo, couch, 1964. Manufacturer: Poltronova. Photo: Jürgen Hans

Synthesis 45, chair, 1972 Manufacturer: Olivetti Photo: Jürgen Hans

Synthesis 45, chair, 1972. Manufacturer: Olivetti. Photo: Jürgen Hans

 

The exhibition illustrates this development with key works from the earlier periods: for example, the Califfo sofa (1964), the Kubirolo storage cabinets (1966-67), and pieces from the Mobili Grigi furniture series (1970) for Poltronova – or with rare objects like the Flying Carpet armchair Tappeto Volante (1974), a manifestation of the seemingly weightless connection Sottsass forged between Pop culture and hippie-era spirituality. Other objects, such as Seggiolina da Pranzo (1979-80) for Alchimia and many spectacular Memphis designs, demonstrate how Sottsass finally arrived at a personal and unique style.

 

Image from the series »Metafore«, Vich, 1973 Photo: Ettore Sottsass Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Vich, 1973. Photo: Ettore Sottsass. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Banolas, 1973 Photo: Ettore Sottsass Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Banolas, 1973. Photo: Ettore Sottsass. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Balaguer, 1974 Photo: Ettore Sottsass Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Balaguer, 1974. Photo: Ettore Sottsass. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Predazzo, 1976 Photo: Ettore Sottsass Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Image from the series »Metafore«, Predazzo, 1976. Photo: Ettore Sottsass. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

 

The exhibition is supplemented by excerpts from the extensive body of poetic and literary texts written by Sottsass, as well as photographs from the Metafore series (1972-1979), which clearly reveal Sottsass’s search for meaningful answers to fundamental design issues.

They show that his interest in spirituality and archaic cultures was a direct source of creative inspiration for his designs for Alchimia, Memphis, and even Olivetti, a manufacturer of industrial goods. This is what ultimately makes Sottsass stand out in the history of twentieth-century design: as a rebel and a poet, whose legacy continues to enrich our everyday lives.

 

Ettore Sottsass, 1988. Photo: Barbara Radice Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass

Ettore Sottsass, 1988. Photo: Barbara Radice. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass


 

News source: Vitra Design Museum
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