Ettore Sottsass

Metafore. Vuoi guardare il muro… o vuoi guardare la valle?, 1973

Two gelatin silver prints (diptych)

50 × 40 cm


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Artwork
Description

The photographs by Ettore Sottsass featured on ARTUNER date from 1973, towards the end of a period marked by Radical Architecture. The Italian Radical Movement, which developed in parallel with Arte Povera and Conceptual Art, was calling for a reconsideration and refoundation of the mechanisms and responsibilities of architects and designers towards society at large. Later on, most of the projects developing out of this cannon where labelled as “utopian” but at the time they challenged the very foundations of industrial culture.

In this period Sottsass spent most of his time writing, drawing and thinking rather than designing. He remembers that he “[…] felt a deep necessity to visit deserted places, mountains; to re-establish a physical relationship with the cosmos, which is the only real environment, precisely because it can’t be measured, foreseen, controlled or known…” He started noting down so-called “constructions”. What at first was a sequence of drawings of simplistic utopian architecture, notes on anthropology and reflections on the environment, soon developed into a photographic project titled Metaphors.

He realized these photographs in Spain, where he increasingly spent time due to a turbulent relationship with a Catalan artist. Subcategorized into various chapters including ‘The designs for the rights of man’ and ‘The designs for the destiny of man’, Sottsass carefully staged design-metaphors in the wild landscapes he would explore during his clandestine weekend getaways. Sometimes his interventions are barely noticeable, at other times they are radically intrusive. In his photographs, Sottsass addresses the provisional structures just as much as the nature surrounding them as irresolvable doubts he poses in respect to architecture.  The questions asked in the pencilled subtitles can never be answered by means of rationality but rather give infinite space to further sensorial and instinctive enquiries. The series found its culmination in the display of all 51 Metaphors at the 1976 opening exhibition of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York.

 

About
the artist

Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007) was an Italian architect and founding member of the Memphis group. His versatile repertoire is internationally acclaimed. It includes ceramics, jewellery, works in glass and silver, lighting, furniture, office machines and buildings which inspired generations of architects and designers. Sottsass is noted for challenging the modernist paradigm through an exploration of new materials and technologies. Since beginning his career in 1946, he made numerous significant contributions to the fields of design and architecture.

Early in his career he worked for the Italian firm Olivetti for where he designed the Tekne, the company’s first electronic typewriter. Later he would design the Valentine typewriter that, with its shiny red encasement, is now considered an iconic ‘pop’ product. At Olivetti, he would also help create the Elea 9003, Italy’s first electronic calculator. By the 1970s his design objects were regarded as part of the Italian vanguard and were prominently featured in the 1972 exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Invariably, sculptures, ceramics and domestic designs by Sottsass include an abundance of bright colour, a sharp and pristine finish and often a totemic design in which layers veer between functional and non-functional.

Sottsass carried a camera with him and took photos everywhere he went. His photography can be considered a form of self-examination and a dismantling of his roles as an architect/artist/designer. The photographs retain sensibilities of his work in these domains such as isolated and highlighted structures and elements. Architecture itself is often a prominent subject used as a backdrop that emphasises human experience.

Sottsass is perhaps best remembered for his role in founding Memphis in 1981, and the ceramics and designs produced at the height of the group’s prominence. Memphis, whose name is derived from a song by Bob Dylan, captured the attention of the design world with its radical products. The group’s designs, stalwarts of post modernism, were conceptual, fluid and often integrated plastic laminates, asymmetry and vibrant colours.


Sottsass carried a camera with him and took photos everywhere he went. His photography can be considered a form of self-examination and a dismantling of his roles as an architect/artist/designer. The photographs retain sensibilities of his work in these domains such as isolated and highlighted structures and elements. Architecture itself is often a prominent subject used as a backdrop that emphasises human experience.

Sottsass is perhaps best remembered for his role in founding Memphis in 1981, and the ceramics and designs produced at the height of the group’s prominence. Memphis, whose name is derived from a song by Bob Dylan, captured the attention of the design world with its radical products. The group’s designs, stalwarts of post modernism, were conceptual, fluid and often integrated plastic laminates, asymmetry and vibrant colours.


Ettore Sottsass
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

January 12th, 2015 until
April 12th, 2015
Curated by ARTUNER