Ettore Sottsass - Carlton

Ettore Sottsass, "Carlton" Room Divider (detail), 1981.
Wood, plastic laminate. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, 1997

‘Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical’ at the Met Breuer

The exhibition at The Met Breuer, Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical, on view July 21–October 8, 2017, reevaluates Sottsass’s career in a presentation of his key works in a range of media.

Source: Met Breuer

A seminal figure in 20th-century design, the Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass (1917–2007) created a vast body of work, the result of an exceptionally productive career that spanned more than six decades.

Perhaps best known for his work with the design collective Memphis in the 1980s, Sottsass’s work evolved over the course of his career from modernism to postmodernism. Born in Innsbruck, Austria and educated in Turin, Italy, Sottsass established his studio in Milan in 1947. In his early career, he designed iconic works that reflected a functional and rationalist approach, especially as Olivetti’s design consultant in the creation of the Elea 9003 mainframe computer (1958) and numerous machines and furnishing systems. By the 1960s, Sottsass began to move away from his own modernist beginnings in favor of qualities beyond the functional: he created objects imbued with symbolism, emotional appeal, and global and historical references. Moreover, he infused modern design with a sensitivity for the human condition that many at the time felt modernism largely ignored. The shift in his ideology coincided with a broadening of influences gained through travel to the United States, where he worked briefly in the designer George Nelson’s office, and, especially, to India in 1961, as reflected in the works “Ceramics of Darkness” (1963) and “Tantric Ceramics” (1968).

The exhibition at The Met Breuer highlights landmark projects, including 5 of the original industrial ceramic totems that comprised the “Menhir, Ziggurat, Stupas, Hydrants, and Gas Pumps” (1965–66) project displayed at the Galleria Sperone in 1967; the iconoclastic and minimalist “Superboxes” (begun 1966); and the “Environment”—a system of modular cabinets for MoMA’s 1972 exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”. Designed as a conceptual prototype/provocation in the 1970s spirit of questioning social norms, the “Environment” proposes liberation from traditional architectural structures and the social values associated with home ownership in favor of an open-source shared domestic utility catering to a more nomadic or communal existence. This sequence of visionary projects introduced many of the concepts, materials, and techniques that informed the founding of Memphis in 1981.

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