Memphis, the totem of emotions

It wasn’t a school. But not even a movement or a current. Schools and movements arise from joining a project, from sharing an aesthetic. Memphis it was born instead of a secession: in 1979 Ettore Sottsass leaves the Alchimia group which he had helped to found with Alessandro Mendini and Alessandro Guerriero, and which had constituted an important stage in the intense season of radical Italian design. But Mendini and Guerriero saw in Alchimia an atelier devoted above all to the production of prototypes or experimental pieces. Sottsass, on the other hand, wants to confront the industry. It aspires to create projects capable – as Barbara Radice wrote well – of “taking the counterattack” from current production, with the aim of questioning the functionalist and withered minimalism of industrial design of the Seventies.

Memphis: forty years of kitsch and elegance

by Francesca Gugliotta



Carlton, the room divider signed by Ettore Sottsass in 1981, one of the best known works of Memphis

Carlton, the room divider signed by Ettore Sottsass in 1981, one of the best known works of Memphis

Memphis was born like this: with the aim of intercepting the dreams and needs of an increasingly restless and intolerant society of too rigid rules or predictable and repetitive canons. And it has an official date of birth, 11 December 1980, when some of the designers destined to become leading exponents of the group meet in the Milanese house of Sottsass. Michele De Lucchi to Aldo Cibicfrom Matteo Thun to Marco Zanini. Barbara Radice will take care of the artistic direction, Ernesto Gismondi will be the president of the group.

Ernesto Gismondi: enlightened by his high-tech emotions

by Francesca Gugliotta



First, wooden and metal chair by Michele De Lucchi, 1983

First, wooden and metal chair by Michele De Lucchi, 1983

The name comes from a verse from Bob Dylan’s song Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, which that evening – according to the legend – would have resounded several times on the Sottsass record player. Memphis, moreover, evoked both the city of Elvis Presley and one of the capitals of ancient Egypt (Memphis), signifying the group’s desire to merge high culture and low culture, and to draw on the most disparate cultural and formal references. . In the few years of its existence, in fact, Memphis will operate a melting pot of Futurism and art deco, of pop art and kitsch, always with a very curious attention to new materials such as plastic laminate and with a connotative use of color, blown up in all its brightest colors, in all the most representative pieces of the group, from the absolutely sunny oranges and reds of Zanini’s Dublin sofa to the chromatic rainbow that shines in the legendary Carlton by Sottsass.

The Ginza robot cabinet with drawers and shelves, by Masanori Umeda, 1982

The Ginza robot cabinet with drawers and shelves, by Masanori Umeda, 1982

The multicolored house is a factory of joy

by Valentina Ferlazzo



The exhibition is now dedicated to Memphis and his brief experience Memphis Againcurated by Christoph Radl, from 18 May to 12 June at the Milan Triennale: an exhibition that brings together over 200 furniture and objects created between 1981 and 1986 by the group’s designers, and which allows you to glance at the same time synoptic and frontal on one of the most fruitful seasons (and most appreciated internationally) of Italian design. Seeing them again today, many of those objects are striking for their totemic and robotic nature: artifacts such as the aforementioned Carlton by Sottsass or the Ginza by Masamori Umeda stand out as ghostly presences, evade any functional diktat, draw possible stories and worlds. Playing on the composition of primary geometric shapes (circles, squares, triangles and rectangles but also cylinders, cubes and spheres), Memphis transforms geometry into dramaturgy and lets the imagination break into home furnishings. The exhibition at the Triennale is neither a tribute nor a historicization, but intends to offer the public the opportunity to confront the emotional aspect of that extraordinary production: a stage that has forever and irreversibly changed the very idea of design, and the design culture of subsequent generations.

Dublin, sofa in plastic laminate, metal and fabric, Marco Zanini, 1981

Dublin, sofa in plastic laminate, metal and fabric, Marco Zanini, 1981

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