Alessandro the Great
Alessandro Mendini Milan, 16.08.1931 - 18.02.2019
“I don’t think of myself as a designer. I do all sorts of different things. I’m a hodge-podge.” Alessandro Mendini loved to joke because he was a man with clear and distinct ideas, whom fate had granted many talents of equal intensity. An intellectual of the great eclectic school of the late Italian 20th century, he felt at ease and with the same depth in different fields of knowledge and skills. All mixed in with a gift for playfulness and irony in the Greek sense. Here at Domus he was at home. Editor-in-chief for two very different seasons, from 1979 to 1986 and from 2010 to 2011, last spring he readily accepted the invitation to edit the celebratory number marking the magazine’s 90th year. “Tell me the truth. You’re asking me because Domus and I are almost the same age.” He immediately enjoyed himself, turning up to the first meeting with the table of contents practically complete, as always, a vertical line where the violet turned blue and returned violet. Domus. Novanta Anni astonished many readers. It featured Eileen Gray’s house on the French Riviera, where Le Corbusier, mad with jealousy, daubed the walls with his paintings; the time when Ludwig Wittgenstein took a sabbatical year to build a house for his sister, who had been portrayed in her youth by Klimt; Paolo Soleri’s naturalistic temptations at Arcosanti; the magical naturalism of Tarsila do Amaral; the identikit of the policeman who issued an ID card to Costantino Nivola; Nanda Vigo in a breathtaking pair of shorts. This was Domus’ 90th birthday as interpreted by Mendini, who always bobbed up where you least expected him.
Twice a winner of the Compasso d’Oro, Mendini was not interested in design as the path to success or prestige. Rather, it was a privileged field for applying his vital energy.
For this reason he made objects that were practical, functional, but also capable of expressing an emotion or a criticism. Rather aberrant objects and with at least one mistake: either too red or too big or too kitschy.
Like any true master, in Mendini the theory of art overlapped with that of life. “My objects have a soul and I try to express it.” The quintessence of the soul in his objects is his Proust armchair. “There is no Proust chair project. It is only an idea, a conceptual work. It is an elite artwork, handmade in my atelier, but also produced in a plastic version that sells for a few hundred euros. A fascinating mental game.”
Perhaps his deepest lesson remains this, the mental game, which some call style. To have made the general public feel the value of style, which is a reflection of the value of ideas, or rather the soul. Mendini, who could well have spoken of himself in the third person, like Caesar, did more than anyone to bring the new protagonists of the society of consumerism and everyday objects closer to the world of ideas.
We will miss him.