ETTORE SOTTSASS. BE­YOND THE VALEN­TINE

The art of cre­ation, that is, the abil­ity to think of ob­jects that “wel­come the in­de­ci­sion that ex­ists in the world”: a trib­ute to the cen­te­nary of the birth of the artist who most of all has ex­plored the world of ex­pres­sion.

All About Italy (USA) - - All About Italy - Martina Morelli

Along life, a con­stant chal­lenge to over­come the lim­its of cre­ativ­ity, a prize that fate has re­served for the ge­nius of Ettore Sottsass. A proof ac­cepted will­ingly and an ex­is­tence dusted to the bone. Ar­chi­tect, de­signer and much more, Sottsass was in­car­cer­ated in a prison camp in Mon­tene­gro, he mar­ried Fer­nanda Pi­vano first and then the art critic and jour­nal­ist Bar­bara Radice, he wrote for and de­vised mag­a­zines, de­signed jew­elry and pho­tographed prac­ti­cally any­thing. As a painter, he was part of the MAC (Movi­mento Arte Conc­reta), par­tic­i­pat­ing in the first col­lec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion in Mi­lan in 1948 and in the same year he was one of the pro­mot­ers of the ex­hi­bi­tion held in Rome of Ab­stract Art in Italy be­com­ing an ad­her­ent of Spa­tial­ism. Ceram­ics, enamel-on-cop­per, glass - such as the pieces made in 1975 as lim­ited edi­tions by the Mu­rano glass­works Vis­tosi for Artemide - it is im­pos­si­ble to de­fine just one art form that stands-out above any other. Cer­tainly, if noth­ing other than to jus­tify his own words, we should not dwell too much on the Valen­tine,

one of Olivetti’s most fa­mous type­writ­ers. Of the por­ta­ble red de­vice with which he won the Golden Com­pass award in 1970 he said: “I have worked for sixty years of my life, and it seems that the only thing I have ever made is that fu*&!ng red type­writer.”

He was in fact the ar­chi­tect of Olivetti’s for­tune, but not just that. A pro­tag­o­nist of the rad­i­cal avant-garde move­ments of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Alchimia and Mem­phis, dur­ing his ca­reer Ettore Sottsass de­signed ar­ti­facts which de­fined the his­tory of ‘Made in Italy’, and which con­tinue to de­ter­mine the trends of in­ter­na­tional taste. His mis­sion: to coun­ter­act the min­i­mal­ist styling of the era. To go against it, just look at his cre­ations made in bold col­ors and lines in­spired by art deco, kitsch and pop art, in com­plete con­trast to the glossy de­signs of the time.

Not just ob­jects, but sym­bols bear­ing mem­ory, af­fec­tion, and emo­tion.

The Tahiti lamp, cre­ated in 1981, with a pro­file that re­calls a small bird with a long beak, re­spon­si­ble for hav­ing rec­on­ciled in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion with art and po­etry. Ba­sic geo­met­ric shapes (a white par­al­lelepiped dec­o­rated with

“It is a con­tin­u­ous at­tempt to up­date, to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing. It’s not about stay­ing young, but about stay­ing in ten­sion with the world”

black ‘bac­terium’ mo­tifs as a base, another yel­low par­al­lelepiped as a stem, a pink cylin­der as a head and yet another red par­al­lelepiped for a beak) merge to­gether to trans­form the rig­or­ous ab­strac­tion of ge­ome­tries into an or­ganic and play­ful whole. Also Carl­ton, the fa­mous book­case de­signed by Sottsass in 1981 and pro­duced by the Mem­phis group, with its strong iden­tity, rep­re­sents a historical pe­riod, a sym­bolic, post­mod­ern ob­ject that is nowa­days pre­served and dis­played in var­i­ous per­ma­nent col­lec­tions of some of the most em­i­nent mu­se­ums in the world.

Un­usual anti-con­vex forms, bold com­bi­na­tions of color that have brought a new mean­ing to the con­cept of ‘de­sign’.

A HUN­DRED YEARS OF SOTTSASS

In 1979 Ettore Sottsass do­nated to the CSAC - Study Cen­ter and Ar­chive of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the Univer­sity of Parma al­most 14,000 de­sign ma­te­ri­als and 24 sculp­tures. On the cen­te­nary of the artist’s birth, in­spired by this pre­cious do­na­tion, CSAC has launched an im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tion and pub­lish­ing pro­ject. 700 pieces se­lected from within the ar­chive and set up ac­cord­ing to a chrono­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive struc­ture (be­gin­ning with a child­ish draw­ing from 1922), which high­light vis­ual and method­olog­i­cal con­stants of the artist in­ter­preted by the ex­hi­bi­tion itin­er­ary of the CSAC Ar­chive-mu­seum. The ti­tle of the ex­hi­bi­tion, Ettore Sottsass, In ad­di­tion to de­sign, refers to Sottsass’s own work­ing prac­tice, which goes be­yond the speci­ficity of his work as a de­signer to­wards a broader vi­sion in which de­sign has ab­so­lute cen­tral­ity as a de­sign tool, but first and fore­most as a mo­ment of re­flec­tion and for­mal ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion will oc­cupy the evoca­tive space of the Cis­ter­cian Abbey of Valser­ena, home of the CSAC, un­til the eighth of April.

To re­mem­ber and cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of his birth on Septem­ber 14, 1917 many other events have been or­ga­nized around the world. Amongst these was “There is a Planet”, a mono­graph cu­rated by Bar­bara Radice, the Mae­stro’s wife, at the Mi­lan Tri­en­nial un­til the 11 March. The ti­tle of the ex­hi­bi­tion, and of the book, is that of a Sottsass pro­ject of the early 90’s for the Ger­man pub­lisher Was­muth, but never re­al­ized. The for­mat of the book, now pub­lished by Elec­tra, is in five sec­tions, with five dif­fer­ent ti­tles and as many texts, pho­tos taken by Sottsass dur­ing his trav­els around the world: pic­tures of ar­chi­tec­ture, houses, doors, peo­ple, gen­eral sce­nar­ios of Man’s pres­ence through­out the planet. The main body of the ex­hi­bi­tion, in nine rooms, is or­ga­nized around nine sep­a­rate themes start­ing with the li­brary of ar­chive vol­umes of the col­lected writ­ings of Sottsass.

Each theme/room and its group of works is ac­com­pa­nied by brief quotes from the texts to fol­low closely the path of his vi­sion and of his vast, mul­ti­fac­eted ac­tiv­ity: ar­chi­tec­ture, de­sign, draw­ing, photography, paint­ing, ar­ti­facts, fur­ni­ture, sculp­ture, glass, ceram­ics, pub­lish­ing and writ­ing. Along the walls of the gallery from which one ac­cesses the in­di­vid­ual rooms, are ex­hib­ited, on one side, works con­tex­tual to the themes of the rooms, and on the other, a se­lec­tion of original pho­tos high­light­ing the Mae­stro’s vi­sion. Also on show is an un­pub­lished col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs from the early 60’s en­ti­tled ‘The girls from An­tibes’. The ex­hi­bi­tion is also made pos­si­ble thanks to the col­lab­o­ra­tion and lend­ing of works from pub­lic and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions and col­lec­tors such as the Pom­pi­dou Cen­ter and the Kandin­sky Li­brary in Paris, the CSAC Study Cen­ter and Ar­chive of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Parma, the Bruno Bischof­berger Gallery in Männedorf and the Gallery Mour­mans in Maas­tricht.

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.

Dear Valen­tine, this is to tell you that you are my friend as well as my Valen­tine, and that I in­tend to write you lots of let­ters” says the user guide of the fa­mil­iar red type­writer.

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