Ettore Sottsass

Ur, 1989/2015

Earthenware

31.5 × 31 × 31 cm


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Artwork
Description

Ettore Sottsass drew Antiche Ceramiche, a series of 13 ceramics, in 1989 for his friend Alessio Sarri, a master ceramicist with whom he had worked previously. Named after ancient cities and mythic empires, these bright and seductive works reference unknown, mysterious architectures. At the same time there their visual vocabulary is deeply rooted in the architect’s unmistakable flamboyant artistic language.

Sottsass’ fascination for ceramics stems most notably from the cultural idea embodied by the material. According to him “Ceramics support everything – the old, dry gentle terra-cotta bears all things. They bear culture, as ethnologists say, societies, people, kingdoms, sultanates, and even empires.” The abstract geometric composition of the vases, often carrying a totemic feel to them, are Sottsass’ sensorial responses to his experiences while on journeys to distant lands.

His sketches rely on the mental mechanisms of childhood, less rational and intellectual but more based on perception and instinct. Throughout the entirety of his career, from Sottsass’ early paintings to the photography of the 70s, and later works of architecture during the 1980s, Sottsass used colour combinations to determine shapes within a composition and the relationship of exterior surface to interior function. The outcome is a conglomeration of decisive signs. The vases reflect Sottsass’ pursuit for elemental language: oversized dimensions are combined with playful and luminous colours while rounded edges give way  abruptly to sharp and pristine finishes. For each of the Antiche Ceramiche the glazes have been applied more thinly along the edges to give them a lighter, almost whitish colour – giving the impression that they might be made out of plastic.

Like many of Sottsass’ work, the Antiche Ceramiche are a direct counter to the modernist idea of design. The metaphorical idiom they speak is an inimitable combination of lived and imagined memories, free of the restrictions imposed by ideological contrivances.

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