Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical, Italian Cool, The Met Breur

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Ettore Sottsass

Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical

Organized by Christian Larsen, Associate Curator of Modern Design and Decorative Arts the exhibition Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical will go on show at The Met Breur on Madison Avenue in New York on July 21, 2017.

The Met Breur will showcase the broad spectrum of the designer’s work, including architectural drawings, interiors, furniture, machines, ceramics, glass, jewelry, textiles and pattern, painting, and photography.

Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007) was all about reforming design from before World War II and animating it for a new age. Either appalling or exciting people throughout his career, Sottsass had graduated from the Turin Polytechnic in 1939 just as the war began.

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Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan), Manufacturer: Memphis Milano, 1985, Reconstituted wood veneer, plastic laminate (HPL print laminate), lacquer, plywood, Gift of Daniel Wolf, 2017 courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Following his service in the military during World War II, he set about progressing the ideas that influenced his practice, inspired by his knowledge of both ancient and contemporaneous objects and societies.

Employed to design furniture for post war public housing, he travelled first to the US in 1956 where he encountered Pop Art. This made an indelible impression.

Colour, form, material and function became a focus of his work, which had the power to seduce, shock and make societal statements.

Retained by Olivetti after 1958, he designed the room-size Elea 9003 computer of 1959 and the bright red plastic Valentine portable typewriter (1969), which certainly captured many a secretaries attention. He co-designed the typewriter with Perry King and kitchenware company Alessi, reforming the language of industrial design.

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Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan) “The Structures Tremble”, 1979, Plastic laminate, composition board, painted steel, rubber, glass. courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

He was very interested in how the people, who used his innovative objects, felt and consequently they also had to have emotional appeal.

Sottsass collected people like other people collected his objects, and socially he was linked to, and had relationships with, many of the extraordinary artists and creatives in the world of art and design.

Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan)

Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan) Manufacturer: Toso Vetri d’Arte, Murano Retailer:Memphis Milano, 1986, Glass, Gift of Daniel Wolf, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

People either loved or hated much of what he created. His six-foot tall laminated plywood superbox structure imagined in Palo Alto, California in 1964 would, along with ancient architectural forms and ritual objects, become a source of inspiration for the design collective Memphis.

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Designer:Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan), Manufacturer:Toso Vetri d’Arte, Murano, Retailer:Memphis Milano, 1982 Glass, Gift of Daniel Wolf, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Ettore Sottsass was 64 years old when he and his youthful colleagues Alessandro Mendini, Michele De Lucchi, and Nathalie Du Pasquier infused their eye-catching collection with global and historical references. They provoked everyone with ideas, staring in Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 1981.

The first showing evoked conversation like never before, because everyone involved explored and vocally expressed their opinions. Knocking everyone’s socks off, the group gained worldwide press attention from the outset.

Searching beyond boundaries, Sottsass infused his own modernity of design with sensitivity for the human condition, one that harked back to ancient times through symbolism.

Ettore Sottsass, "Carlton" Room Divider, 1981. Wood, plastic laminate. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, 1997. © Ettore Sottsass

Ettore Sottsass, “Carlton” Room Divider, 1981. Wood, plastic laminate. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, 1997. © Ettore Sottsass

Founded during the 1980s, while many may have believed, the group seemingly arbitrarily adopted the name Memphis from the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song going the rounds at the time.

However it no coincidence it also referenced the ancient Egyptian city Memphis (Ineb-hedj), where Alexander the Great was crowned Pharaoh in 331 BCE, and from where set out to conquer Asia. It satisfied his deep need to understand where his roots lay.

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Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan) “Miss, Don’t You Like Caviar?” Armchair, c1987, Wood and chromed steel, Gift of Joseph A Helman, 1997

Miss Don’t You Like Caviar was the name of an armchair (1987) by Sottsass, not a bowl to eat it that great delicacy from.

Made of wood and chromed steel, like other works they were snapped up by noted creators of their day including Karl Lagerfeld from the world of fashion and David Bowie from the world of music. They rapidly acquired the most significant pieces for their own private collections as they were joyful, playful and colourful.

He brought pattern, colour and texture together with his optimistic approach. Overnight having a piece of Memphis in your house meant that you were not only Avant-garde, but also at the centre of Italian cool, just like its designer.

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Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan) Murmansk Fruit Dish, 1982, Silver, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

The Murmansk Fruit Dish (1982) was shallow, sleek and made of glistening silver. It sat on six stepped legs, evoking the exotic city of Murmansk in the northernmost region of Russia.

While the city may have been known for its isolation and cold, the fruit bowl, is a work both desirable for its usefulness and elegant design and, for sending out warm vibes.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017

Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical

The Met Breur

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New York, NY

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