About The Artist
It’s not for nothing that Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass has been dubbed the father of postmodern furniture. Over the course of his 60-year career, Sottsass completely upended conventional notions of design, bending and often breaking virtually every rule in the book. Born in 1917 in Innsbruck, Austria and raised in Turin, Italy, his adopted home, Sottsass was initially devoted to modernism, designing one of its most beloved postwar classics, the 1969 Olivetti “Valentine” manual typewriter. With its shocking hyper-gloss, magnetic red hue and streamlined design it embraced a typically modernist economy of form following function, which Sottsass would come to challenge.
After the massive success of his “Valentine” typewriter Sottsass became increasingly wary of the strict modernist edict that required functionality to necessarily dictate form. An early pioneer of Anti-Design, which opposed the highbrow taste and correctness associated with functionalism, Sottsass would break with modernism entirely, infusing his designs with idiosyncratic, spirited elements that serve to elicit responses of joy, wonder, and surprise. A rich visual bombardment of textures, shapes, and colors, a Sottsass design is instantly recognizable for its irreverent provocation.
Ever on the prowl for new sources of inspiration for his designs, over the course of his long career Sottsass found muses in a broad range of artifacts derived from vastly different cultures-ancient and modern-in particular those from Indian, Egyptian, and other non-Western civilizations. In 1981 Sottsass led a cluster of designers, including Michele De Lucchi, Andrea Branzi, Michael Graves, who were interested in breaking with the aloof functionality associated with designs of the period. Calling themselves Memphis, the group embraced multifunctionality, unconventional color palettes, and sometimes intentionally abstruse designs that used unconventional, common materials, such as plastic laminates, which were coated with outlandish patterns whimsically referencing artifacts and ephemera both obscure and popular. The group was reticent about defining themselves, but Sottsass’s wife, art historian Barbara Radice, offered: “When a Memphis designer makes a design, he or she does not merely define a product that must contain, pour, light, support, hold or rest. He or she thinks, visualizes, and formally engineers the design as a set of expressive signs with certain cultural contents.” And Sottsass himself once conceded that the movement could be seen as “quoting from suburbia” in its reinvention of objects commonly recognize as utilitarian, as well as in its favoring the use of mass-manufactured materials, such as laminate, in unpredictable ways.
Sottsass was awarded the Sir Misha Black medal for his outstanding contribution to the field of design in 1999. His work was the focus of several exhibitions and retrospectives during the early 2000s, including the 2006 exhibition ‘Ettore Sottsass’ organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which was the first major retrospective on Sottsass’ work presented in the United States, and the 2007 ‘Ettore Sottsass – Work in Progress' exhibition mounted at the Design Museum. His work is held in the permanent collections of multiple major museums and private collections across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art.