Memphis, the return to the Triennale

With shocking colors, asymmetrical forms, simple materials and a dash of glitter, the Triennale di Milano is taking a dip into the 1980s with Memphis Again, the exhibition which celebrates the iconic collective founded in 1981 in casa Sottsass.

With vases, lamps, tables, and bookcases (especially the famous Carlton by Ettore Sottsass), there are over 200 pieces on display which tell the story of a groundbreaking epoch and movement in design. Curated by Christoph Radl, the exhibition is organized using two metaphors: a catwalk, where the “models” are immobile and the visitors moving around, and 1980s nightclub style, with the authors’ writings appearing and disappearing on the walls.

There is a party atmosphere (in the background there is even a soundtrack by Seth Troxler) which is enlivened by unusual forms, asymmetrical volumes, free and irreverent stylistic languages and bold materials which are often unexpected. All you need to do is consider the glossy or matte, bright and colorful laminate: a “simple” material which breaks the boundaries between high and low culture and mixes luxury and everyday style. Glass and ceramics were the clear favorites of Memphis, which in a short time became a genuine cultural phenomenon. Even though the collective was short lived (1981-1986), its liberated understanding of design broke down all the barriers (of minimal and hyper-functional design) and marked a turning point which is still defining the “new” design it unleashed.

Anticonventional, emotional and, at times, in your face, Memphis designers like Michele De Lucchi, Andrea Branzi, Ettore Sottsass, Matteo Thun, Marco Zanini, Nathalie Du Pasquier, Barbara Radice, George J. Sowden, Aldo Cibic, Masanori Umeda and many others helped Memphis design become a part of history in less than a decade.

It must have been their bold shapes, bright colors and kitsch look which was perfectly balanced, or the brand-new combination of styles that still feel liberating today. All you need to do is take a look at the entrance and you will be feel an intense and immersive energy; you’ll magically find yourself in a nightclub where the thoughts and reflections of critics, architects and designers reverberate.

The retrospective is not intended to be an homage to the movement or a simple historical and chronological tale, but rather a reflection, in Sottsass style, on the expressive and cultural possibilities of design which is capable of going beyond marketing and fashion. As Ettore Sottsass himself once said, “it is a sort of non-cultural iconographic, a culture that belongs to no one (not an anonymous culture), but the iconography of a culture that is not used and not usable, not because it doesn’t exist, not even because it is not utilized, but because it can’t be looked at, because it is not considered, because it doesn’t belong, because it looks like it doesn’t exist in known culture, and maybe it doesn’t even produce culture.” This ‘culture of no one’ ended up making design history.

Where: Memphis Again, Triennale Milano, viale Alemagna 6, Milan, Italy
When: until June 12, 2022



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