Italian Design 101

Through a unique and complex history, Italy has managed to metabolize its own hugely influential culture surrounding modern design. The country’s particular ways of seeing, thinking, and making have impacted multiple movements and produced a variety of forms—furniture, fashion, film—to international resonance. The label “Made In Italy” at once conjures sophisticated craftsmanship, luxury, conceptual projects, and expressive, poetic, and radical forms. This fusion of creativity, innovation, originality, and adaptability has been celebrated by aficionados across the globe (see a recap and highlights from this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan, here). It is no surprise that Italian design has carved out space in the world of collectible design as well. In honor of such a remarkable heritage and legacy, here are a few Italian offerings—historic as well as up-to-the-minute contemporary works—that will be on view at this year’s installment of Design Miami/ Basel.

POSTWAR DESIGN

The postwar era in Italy was characterized by several economic, social, and political changes, particularly during the years from 1945–1960. In an effort to reboot Italy’s economy, the country was able to successfully cope with changing social, economic, and political challenges to become a worldwide leader in design. Several factors played important roles, including a historic industrial culture and strong craft traditions that fostered the important relationship between artisans, designers, and manufacturers of these new products. Postwar design is generally considered practical, simple, well-made, and long-lasting, though it is also rooted in an experimental approach and a willingness to take chances.

Postwar artists/designers to know: Gae Aulenti, Vico Magistretti, Gio Ponti, Gino Sarfatti, Franco Albini, Piero Fornasetti, Carlo Scarpa, and Anna Castelli Ferrieri.

Postwar booths at Design Miami/ Basel: Galleria Rossella Colombari largely focuses on 20th-century Italian designers; Jason Jacques Inc. holds an expansive collection of European pottery, including Italian pieces; Nilufar Gallery is based in Milan and focuses on both historical and contemporary designers; Galleria O. features Italian design from 1930–1970, with a concentration on work by Ettore Sottsass, Fontana Arte, and Gio Ponti.

Highlights at the Fair:

Franco Albini, Prototype Stadera desk, 1950, at Galleria Rossella Colombari

Gio Ponti, Pair of Consoles, 1950s, at Nilufar Gallery

Gino Sarfatti, Mod. 516 table lamp, 1948, at Galleria O.

Ettore Sottsass, Sideboard, c. 1959, at Galleria Rossella Colombari

Osvaldo Borsani, Integrated modular shelving unit and desk Model E22, 1951, at Galleria Rossella Colombari

RADICAL DESIGN

Also referred to as “Anti-Design,” the radical design movement surfaced in the 1960s and ’70s as a means to critique the nature of commodity culture, which grew out of the modern design of the ’50s (with its emphasis on mass production). With material and technological advances paired with political and social countercurrents, some designers became less interested in function in its traditional sense and instead promoted cultural possibilities through design. Designers, critics, and the public began to question the meanings and implications of design. Conceptual projects sprang up to articulate the growing dissatisfaction with mass production and what was seen as passive consumerism. Works associated with the movement communicate a sense of exaggeration, distortion, and absurdity.

Radical artists/designers to know: Archizoom, Superstudio, Archigram, Ettore Sottsass, Paolo Lomazzi, Studio Alchimia, and Achille Castiglioni.

Radical booths at Design Miami/ Basel: Nilufar Gallery is based in Milan and focuses on both historical and contemporary designers; Galleria O. features Italian design from 1930–1970 with a concentration on work by Ettore Sottsass, Fontana Arte, and Gio Ponti; Erastudio Apartment Gallery provides expertise in site-specific “design as architecture.”

Highlights at the Fair:

Gabriella CrespiPair of “Scultura” coffee tables, 1970, at Galerie Chastel-Maréchal

Nanda Vigo, Light Tree, 1983, at Erastudio Apartment-Gallery

POSTMODERNISM AND MEMPHIS

Energized by the Radical Design movement, Ettore Sottsass formed the Memphis Group in late 1980 to continue experimenting with color, unconventional materials, and historic forms. The name Memphis itself tells a story about the group’s postmodernist manifesto. Taken from a Bob Dylan song titled “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” it suggests both a suburban American city and the former capital of ancient Egypt, and represents both the contemporary and historical, high culture and low. Through the late 1980s, Memphis introduced furniture, fabrics, lighting, and ceramics marked by distinctively geometric shapes, patterns, and bold colors. The forms were inspired by Pop Art, Art Deco, and Kitsch, and heralded surface decoration.

Postmodern artists/designers to know: Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, Aldo Cibic, Michele de Lucchi, Nathalie du Pasquier, Michael Graves, Shiro Kuramata, Matteo Thun, George Sowden, Hans Hollein, and Gaetano Pesce.

Postmodern booths at Design Miami/Basel: Nilufar Gallery is based in Milan and focuses on both historical and contemporary designers; Galleria O. features Italian design from 1930–1970 with a concentration on work by Ettore Sottsass, Fontana Arte, and Gio Ponti; and Erastudio Apartment Gallery provides expertise in site-specific “design as architecture.”

Highlights at the Fair:

Alessandro Mendini, Calamobbio rare sideboard, 1985, at Galleria Rossella Colombari

CONTEMPORARY

Many emerging Italian designers often look to the tradition of design, such as references to craft and use of materials (marble, for instance) that come directly from the region. But in addition to engaging this history and culture, they are also, of course, shaping its future, incorporating new technologies, techniques, and tools, and redefining methods of production and distribution.

Contemporary artists/designers to know: Lanzavecchia + Wai, Oeuffice, Delfina Delettrez, Martino Gamper, Antonio Citterio, and Nucleo.

Contemporary booths at Design Miami/Basel: Gallery Libby Sellers represents contemporary Italian designers Studio Formafantasma and Paola Petrobelli; Nilufar Gallery is based in Milan and focuses on both historical and contemporary designers; Erastudio Apartment Gallery provides expertise in site-specific “design as architecture;” and Antonella Villanova shows contemporary jewelry.

Highlights at the Fair:

Alessandro Mendini, “Poltrona” chair, 2013, at Galerie kreo

Studio Formafantasma, Big Pillar, 2014, at Gallery Libby Sellers

Pucci de Rossi, Satyricon Coatrack, 2011, at Galerie Downtown

Stefano Casciani, Vase Positive Negative with Oval Base, 2014, at Galleria Rossella Colombari

Tiffany Lambert

Explore Design Miami/ Basel 2014 on Artsy.

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