New York gallery Friedman Benda is showcasing the early work of Memphis Group founder Ettore Sottsass. The retrospective exhibition, “Ettore Sottsass: 1955 to 1969,” opened on Sept. 10 and will run through Oct. 17. It features ceramics, furniture, lighting, and photography, among other work, from the Italian architect and industrial designer’s early career.
Although brief, the exhibit's coverage span coincides with Sottsass' early years as a consultant for Italian business-technology manufacturer Olivetti, for which he designed the 1959 Elea 9003 mainframe computer and the 1970 Valentine typewriter, helping to solidify his design career. He would go on to design a series of stores for fashion brand Esprit, a collection of private houses, and, in 2000, the Malpensa airport, near Milan, in addition to working with companies like Apple and Philips to rethink contemporary office and business technology.
By mixing materials, forms, and influences from his travels, particularly to the U.S. and India, Sottsass, who was born in 1917 and died in 2007, explored the conceptual as a counter to postwar rationalism that, in his view, largely disregarded human behavior and preference. Explained critic Rowan Moore for The Guardian on the occasion of a 2014 monograph of Sottsass' work by Philippe Thomé (Phaidon, 2014): “He saw design not only as the fulfilling of a function, but of proposing ways of doing so: a chair could suggest ‘a new way to sit,’ and with it a fragment of a new world.”
In its release on the exhibition, Friedman Benda explains: “A central concern of much of Sottsass’ work is the social, cultural, and technical implications of architecture and design on the way people live and interact. Always counter-intuitive and built on complex thought-patterns, the notion that a functional object could communicate an abstract idea was revolutionary and has emboldened legions of designers today.”