Contemporary art and design are exorbitantly concerned with iconic elements–with specific ways of seeing and creating another time. The aesthetic culture of our time (also) exists as a reminiscence.
Ettore Sottsass, founding member of the design collective „Memphis“ (1981), has put into the world a visual vocabulary which consciously and unconsciously has been coining artists and designers to the present day. His designs are an element of the aesthetic canon. One can sense the essence of an entire decade–the 1980s.
The design vocabulary of Ettore Sottsass' works is a conglomeration of visual legacies in itself. Impressionist paintings in the museums of Paris, which he had seen during a journey in 1936, coined his understanding of colour and composition. „Concerning the issue of colour“ Matisse, Braque, and Picasso became his masters. In 1937, as a student, he came into contact with painter Luigi Spazzapan who had created his art first as a futurist, then as an important representative of abstract painting. He became his friend and teacher. In the interior designs of his student years the inner eruption, triggered by the art and the formal closeness to cubism and Fauvism, becomes obvious – he creates structure through colour. Using the materials of the artist (drawing ink, wax crayon, watercolour) he designed his interiors. After the Second World War, Sottsass occupied himself with Kandinsky, Hans Arp, Max Ernst or Alexander Calder. In Milan he organised the first exhibition of abstract art after the war.
Considering his design and artistic work of the following years the „cultural presence of painting“ can be understood. Sottsass' furniture–"useful sculptures" (Sergio Cammilli)–emerged from a synthesis of his experiences, of form and thinking, of philosophy (he especially dedicated himself to Indian philosophy) and sensual experience. Eventually, Memphis is thought of as an experiment for creating a new environment: "We do not draw our product design impulses from the institutionalised culture, not from technology, (…) not from some institutionalised certainty. But rather from fields where everything starts anew, is uncertain, contradictory, and does not have a firm position." Since their first exhibition in Milan on 18 September 1981, Memphis has been predominant in the field of design and has been coining the post-modern style. Their designs consist of an eclectic mix of plastic, celluloid, printed glass, historical shapes, kitsch and comic motifs, gaudy colours, patterns, and materials.
His search for independent production and his way of designing objects through to the creation of things entirely free of purpose–like his ceramics–let Ettore Sottsass be spiritually akin with the artists that are shown here.
Comparing Ettore Sottsass' iconic Memphis-Design with works of contemporary artists, the show tries to exemplarily point out the principle of aesthetic passing on. In the expression of present art, as in the designs of Sottsass, the influence of aesthetic coining becomes obvious.
Text: Juliet Kothe: Literature and Quote: Höger, Hans Leo: Ettore Sottsass (*1917) : Kontinuität und Methode im Schaffen eines italienischen Designers. Bonn, 1991