Matteo Thun, ‘Api Ashtray ’, 1981, The Modern Archive
Matteo Thun, ‘Api Ashtray ’, 1981, The Modern Archive
Matteo Thun, ‘Api Ashtray ’, 1981, The Modern Archive

The inaugural Memphis collection from 1981 only included a few ceramics, all designed by Matteo Thun. Photographed in the original 1981 Memphis poster in a gray ceramic glaze with a gold applied pattern. This version in the red and white combination was a variation in a smaller edition size, although the exact numbers are not known.
This vintage example travelled with the US tour of the Memphis exhibition to most venues from Memphis, Tennessee to the Cooper Hewitt in New York City. It was also displayed in the Grace Designs showroom and has remained in our founders collection. It is in truly remarkable condition despite its travels over the last thirty-plus years. Extremely good condition, there all a few rough places in red glaze on top, and two minuscule chips on bottom edge.
Matteo Thun studied architecture in Florence and went to on to teach and work with a group of students making limited edition ceramics. In 1978, he met Ettore Sottsass in Milan and worked for his firm, Sottsass Associati, until he opened his own studio in 1984. He was a founding member of the Memphis group through 1984, often referred to as the aristocratic Austrian architect, as the northern Italian city of Blozano was once a part of Austria. His work for Memphis set the tone for New Design in ceramics, employing zagged edges as in his 1982 Titicaca Vase, or the ring-shaped teapot on an egg shaped based called Chad, or the ceramic hanging lamps series including Santa Fe with red lightning bolts and Santa Monica with silvered details for the 1983 Memphis collection.
Api was more than a decorative ceramic; it worked well in elevating the needs of smoking. There are four indents to hold a cigarette safely while burning, and the red area at the top could be used to extinguish the cigarette and then if dropped into the volcanic-like center any smoke would be contained within the interior. I often imagine the early days of Memphis as Barbara Radice so perfectly described it as "twenty square meters of Sottsass's living room, white wine, music, excitement, laughter, smoke, complicity" with the other founding architect's including Thun. I imagine them listening to Bob Dylan's, "Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" over and over again until Sottsass said, "ok, let's call it Memphis." And I believe they also considered the possibilities for designs for everything, including ashtrays!

Series: This ashtray was part of the Nefertiti series along with a Coffee/tea pot, a large vase, a small vase, a flag, a sugar bowl with lid, a cup and saucer and an egg cup.

Signature: Marked Matteo Thun per Memphis on bottom.

Image rights: The Modern Archive

Manufacturer: Memphis/Milano 1981

This vintage example travelled with the US tour of the Memphis exhibition to most venues from Memphis, Tennessee to the Cooper Hewitt in New York City. It was also displayed in the Grace Designs showroom and has remained in our founders collection.

Included in Memphis: Research, Experiences, Results, Failures and Successes of New Design by Barbara Radice and many other books on Memphis design.

Acquired directly from Memphis/Milano

About Matteo Thun