Provocative and in love with decor, a challenge to all-powerful Modernism and animated by architecture – this is how Memphis design made a name for itself at the beginning of the 1980s. Less is a Bore. Reflections on Memphis presents the design universe of the Italian group and its predecessors in relation to works by international artists, spanning a historical timeline into the present.
The exhibition illuminates the role of Memphis as a reference-laden, postmodern play with materials, forms and their functions that permeates the boundaries between art, architecture, design and everyday culture. Traces of this approach are still discernible in art today. Less is a Bore sketches the history of a style that draws on the phenomenon of mass culture as well as fashion and cultural history and exhibits a clearly obsessive enthusiasm for the expressive power of surfaces. The Memphis characteristic of tilt effects and the ambiguity in appearance between a can and a creature, between furniture and figurative form especially resonate with those art works in the exhibition, which change between architectural model and autonomous, aesthetic illusion. Furthermore, the works of art in the exhibition occuping a latent proximity to the commodities of our everyday lives and thus playfully challenging our ideas about function link back to Memphis.
The decor of Graham Little’s polygonal objects traces back to patterns and forms from the world of fashion, as well as being inspired by the facades of historical buildings. They display an affinity with the opulent surfaces of objects designed by Memphis. Little overlays his sculptures with an illusionistic, painted ‘skin’ reminiscent of the polarising co-existence of surface and form in many Memphis objects. Eva Berendes draws on the pool of everyday consumer goods for her formal design elements. Her assemblages of different materials and objects are inspired by the surface compositions of abstract painting but are also reminders that these things are carriers of cultural meaning. For Tobias Rehberger, the boundary between art and functional object is dynamic. The sculpture, Cutting, preparing, without missing anything, and being happy about what comes next (2009) is based on the idea his friend, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, has about his preferred living environment. Not without humour, Rehberger thus plays with the current role of design in creating an individual lifestyle. The roots of this development are to be found in Memphis, whose objects separate design from its functional purpose and use it as a projection screen for personal moods and feelings. The game with scale changes between the architectural and the model-like is typical of Memphis and is also evident in the paintings of Raymond Barion, whose motifs include influences from architecture and art history and whose colouring has a touch of those objects that originated in the group around Ettore Sottsass. Barbara Kasten uses materials and objects from modular constructions, which she arranges and finally photographs. Her photos concentrate on the ephemeral appearance of things. She portrays the outer world as a fleeting construction of an individual perspective. Kasten’s works thus prove to be witnesses of that time when architecture and design freed themselves from their functional purpose and was transformed into a sensory adventure addressing more than our bodies and above all our vision. as Alongside a series of large-format Polaroids from the 1980s that have never been shown in Germany, Barbara Kasten presents a video-based installation conceived specially for KAI 10.