Posts Tagged ‘Ettore Sottsass’

Design | Post Ettore Sottsass Modernism

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Carlton room divider, 1981
Wood, plastic laminate.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
John C Waddell Collection,
Gift of John C Waddell, 1997



Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical
The Met Breuer
NYC | USA
21 July > 8 October 2017



I remember cursing postmodernism in the mid-1990s. Having arrived jet-lagged at the Philippe Starck-designed Royalton hotel in New York, I tripped over the rear leg of the designer’s ‘iconic’ Costes armchair (1984) – which might look elegant, but sticks out way too far – and ended up in a heap on the floor.

Like the art deco architecture and design it often resembled, early postmodernism was showy – in many instances, tacky – and unfit for purpose. What made things worse was that, once it really started to roll in the early 1980s and the requirement for objects and buildings to function was sidelined, postmodernism became a bandwagon that was easy to leap on to. Many did just that, in the process, transforming what had begun a couple of decades earlier as a radical philosophical concept in the minds of respected architecture and design theorists into a widespread and rather frivolous fad. Suddenly, there was a lot of money around and people couldn’t wait to find things to spend it on. Bored with what was currently on offer, desperate to find something exciting, new and different, they lapped it up in whatever form it was presented to them.

By the 1960s, Ettore Sottsass (1917 > 2007) was already bored by the functional. ‘When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough’ he was heard to complain. His stated aim for the Valentine portable typewriter (1969), one of his most successful achievements for Olivetti, was to create an object that could ‘influence not only physical conditions but also emotions, [that could] touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes and the moods of people.’ Born in Austria, educated in Italy, he established his first studio in Milan in 1947. Best known for his work with Olivetti, where for many years he was the company’s design consultant, and for the design collective Memphis, founded in 1981, Sottsass’s work would gradually evolve from modernism into postmodernism. The shift was triggered by the influences he gathered through a trip to the United States, where he worked for a month at the designer George Nelson’s office, and another to India in 1961, after which he began to create objects imbued with symbolism, emotional appeal, and global and traditional references.

Murmansk Fruit Dish, 1982
Silver.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Gift of Ronald S Kane, 1992,
Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art



Meanwhile, in 1966, the American architect Robert Venturi, who wittily countered Mies van der Rohe’s ‘less is more’ axiom with his own ‘less is a bore’, published his influential book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. It called for the return of decoration, symbolism, colour, pattern and references to historic structures in new buildings. As a result, over the course of the next couple of decades, pointed skyscrapers with concrete walls that looked as if they were carved from stone began to pop up in American cities. Because they constituted a reaction to the uncompromisingly modern, glass-and-steel structures that had been built following World War II, they were dubbed ‘postmodern’.

When Memphis made its controversial debut at the 1981 Salone del Mobile, a lot of people who had never appeared to have any interest in design, suddenly became very animated and excited; it was as if they’d been at a rather dull party and had been presented with a new and exotic cocktail. Veneered in colourful and patterned plastic laminates, like those used in 1950s American diners, Memphis design was, however, constructed using the finest cabinetmaking techniques marketed and priced beyond the reach of average consumers, it contributed to the blurring of the art and design markets and the rise of ‘collectible design’. Karl Lagerfeld, an ardent devotee of art deco in the 1970s, fell in love with it. Amassing an important collection of Memphis pieces – with help from interior designer Andrée Putman – he famously furnished an entire apartment in Monaco with them in 1983, only to sell off every item at Sotheby’s only eight years later.

Omaggio 3, 2007
Corian and wood.
Courtesy Gallery Mourmans



In retrospect, it would seem, postmodernism turned out to be a fad with substance. The work of its founders, including Sottsass and Venturi, who recognised the need for applying a broader range of thought processes to design and architecture, were important catalysts that provoked profound changes in the mindsets of architects and designers. Postmodernist thinking stimulated the impetus behind the surge of diverse creativity and innovation on which the modern world depends, and indeed, functions.

In its forthcoming exhibition, Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical, The Met Breuer attempts to re-evaluate Sottsass’s exceptionally productive career that spanned more than six decades, via a presentation of his key works in a wide range of media. Including architectural drawings, interiors, furniture, machines, ceramics, glass, jewellery, textiles, painting, and photography, it will offer new insights into his designs. Placing him within a broader design discourse, Sottsass’s work will be juxtaposed against ancient and contemporaneous objects that influenced his practice.

All objects © Ettore Sottsass, images courtesy The Met Breuer


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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being made available to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier


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Design | Olivetti’s Anti-Machine Ethos

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Poster for the Valentine typewriter,
Designed by Walter Ballmer, 1969
Courtesy Associazione Archivio
Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy



Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function
ICA Fox Reading Room
London | UK
25 May > 17 July 2016



Olivetti Showroom, Venice, Italy
Designed by Carlo Scarpa, 1958
Both photos Marco Ambrosi
Courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan



My first typewriter was an Olivetti Praxis 20 Electronic Typewriter, designed by Mario Bellini in 1983. At the time I couldn’t type. I bought it because I admired its sculptural beauty. Even now, having used computer keyboards for some 30 years I remain a one finger typist. If not for Olivetti’s pioneering and beautifully designed products and their attention to the environments in which they were sold and used – hailed as the precursors to the user-friendly Apple products that began to appear in the late 1990s and and the Apple stores that followed – it’s possible that the world may not have taken up desktop and personal technology quite so swiftly or as readily as it has over the past three decades.

Polymath Ettore Sottsass, who was responsible for designing the bright red Valentine portable typewriter (above) – produced by Olivetti from 1969 to 1975 – once remarked: ‘When I began designing machines I also began to think that these objects, which sit next to each other and around people, can influence not only physical conditions but also emotions. They can touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes and the moods of people. Since then I have never designed a product in the same way as I would design a sculpture, and I have been utterly obsessed with the idea that by designing an object or a machine I would be setting off a chain reaction of which I understood very little.’

Poster for the Divissuma 24 calculator
Designed by Herbert Bayer, 1950s
Courtesy Associazione Archivio
Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy



Olivetti Lettera 22, poster
Designed by Giovanni Pintori, 1954
Courtesy Associazione Archivio
Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy



Adriano Olivetti had established the importance of design as a pillar of the company founded by his equally forward thinking father in 1908 in Ivrea, Italy, that was growing at a phenomenal rate. As the company expanded and occupied more and more space within the city, hiring some of the country’s leading architects, the philanthropically-minded Adriano built carefully planned new neighbourhoods with abundant green space and compact apartment blocks to accommodate the expanding workforce. Arguing that because workers inside must see the mountains and valleys where they come from, and that people outside the factory should be able to observe what was going on inside, the new factory buildings were built almost entirely of glass.

In the 1950s designer Australian designer Gordon Andrews and FHK Henrion, a key figure of British post-war design, were asked to create the Olivetti London Kingsway showroom, and in 1957 Adriano commissioned architect Carlo Scarpa to design the showroom in Venice – opened in 1958, restored in 2011 – on the basis that it would be a space designed to show the products, but also to showcase Scarpa’s talent as an architect.

Sottsass was brought on board as a consultant in 1958, and in 1959 Adriano’s son, Roberto, insisted that he be allowed to design the Tekne, which would transform the typewriter into the first systematically conceived business machine. That same year Olivetti won the prestigious Compasso d’Oro with the Elea 9003, the first Italian electronic calculator (computer). Under Roberto Olivetti’s aegis, with the engineer, Mario Tchou, and using his ‘anti-machine machine’ approach, Sottsass’s relationship with the company thrived and he went on to create a series of technically innovative products that thanks to his love of pop art and interest in beat culture looked and felt very much of the moment.

Olivetti Showroom, Barcelona, Spain,
Designed by BBPR, 1965
Photo F Català Roca
Courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan



Numerous other well-know designers, architects and artists including Gae Aulenti, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Mario Bellini, Milton Glaser, and Herbert Bayer were commissioned by Olivetti, who had also established a commercial art department within the company in 1937. From 1940 to 1967 this was led by the innovative and versatile Giovanni Pintori whose approach and aims: ‘I have always believed in the strength of simple ideas and the demand for clear, immediate language that is accessible to everyone. This doesn’t mean that the language of graphics is downgraded to the most common taste. Just the opposite: it means that the language intends to improve average tastes,’ sum up the progressive cultural ideals at the heart of the company’s ethos: a model that still resonates today.

Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function at the ICA Fox Reading Room presents Olivetti’s design work from the mid-20th century.

All images courtesy the ICA


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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier


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Auction | Architect-Built Furniture

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Ettore Sottsass
Bookcase, 1994

Plastic-laminated wood.
Produced by Galerie
Mourmans, the Netherlands.
Estimate £6,000 > 8,000



The Architect
Phillips
Exhibition 23rd > 29th April 2014
Sale 29th April 2014
London | UK

Some 400 works designed by an august pantheon of international architects – among them, Michael Thonet, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Eliel Saarinen, Gerrit Rietveld, Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen, Gio Ponti, Oscar Niemeyer, I M Pei, Buckminster Fuller, Ettore Sottsass, Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid and Shiguru Ban – encompassing items from the mid-19th century up to the 21st, will be auctioned next week in London.

For this inaugural event, uncompromisingly entitled The Architect, the auction house Phillips chose architect Lee F Mindel FAIA, of the New York-based multi-award-winning Sheldon, Mindel & Associates Inc, as curator. SM&A, who, since establishing their company in 1978, have designed numerous lofts and private homes – including one for musician Sting and his actress/producer wife Trudie Styler – were also responsible for the interior of the gallery/sales office for Herzog & deMeuron’s prestigious 56 Leonard Street development of luxury condominiums. The company have designed furniture and lighting as well as interiors for ocean liners and at least one Gulf Stream jet. They believe that ‘Simplicity is the most complicated thing to pursue, but when all elements synthesise, they transcend mere enclosure and become an art form.’ The latter is a quote from the magazine Architectural Digest, which has recognised SM&A as one of the top 100 design firms of the last century. On Phillips’ website Mindel himself quotes American architect Louis Kahn as having said: ‘Design is not making beauty. Beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, love.’ But, enough of this high-minded proselytising and sentimental stuff – so clearly intended for the unconverted. Let’s take a look at a selection of the inspiring array of objects on offer, which, hopefully, speak for themselves.



Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
Maquette, for the ‘Danish’ chair,
circa 1950>1956
Cardboard.
Estimate £4,000 > 5,000

Oscar Niemeyer
Pair of ‘Aran’ lounge chairs,
circa 1975
Leather, stainless steel.
Made by Aran Line, Italy.
Estimate £15,000 > 20,000

Arne Jakobsen
Designed for the American
Scandinavian Foundation,
New York, 1952

Leather, chromium-plated
steel, ebony, painted wood.
Made by cabinetmakers
Rud Rasmussen A/S, Denmark.
Estimate £40,000 > 60,000

I M Pei
Double-sided clock, from
the John Hancock Building,
Boston, circa 1976
Steel, acrylic
Estimate £6,000 > 8,000

Zaha Hadid
Ordrupgaard bench,
model no PP995
for the Ordrupgaard
Museum extension,
Charlottenlund, Denmark,
circa 2006.
Ash. Produced by
PP Mobler,
Denmark
Estimate £35,000 > 45,000

All images courtesy of Phillips


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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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