A long life, a constant challenge to overcome the limits of creativity, a prize that fate has reserved for the genius of Ettore Sottsass. A proof accepted willingly and an existence dusted to the bone. Architect, designer and much more, Sottsass was incarcerated in a prison camp in Montenegro, he married Fernanda Pivano first and then the art critic and journalist Barbara Radice, he wrote for and devised magazines, designed jewelry and photographed practically anything. As a painter, he was part of the MAC (Movimento Arte Concreta), participating in the first collective exhibition in Milan in 1948 and in the same year he was one of the promoters of the exhibition held in Rome of Abstract Art in Italy becoming an adherent of Spatialism.

Ceramics, enamel-on-copper, glass – such as the pieces made in 1975 as limited editions by the Murano glassworks Vistosi for Artemide – it is impossible to define just one art form that stands-out above any other. Certainly, if nothing other than to justify his own words, we should not dwell too much on the Valentine, one of Olivetti’s most famous typewriters. Of the portable red device with which he won the Golden Compass award in 1970 he said: “I have worked for sixty years of my life, and it seems that the only thing I have ever made is that fu*&!ng red typewriter.”

He was in fact the architect of Olivetti’s fortune, but not just that.

A protagonist of the radical avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, Alchimia and Memphis, during his career Ettore Sottsass designed artifacts which defined the history of ‘Made in Italy’, and which continue to determine the trends of international taste.

His mission: to counteract the minimalist styling of the era. To go against it, just look at his creations made in bold colors and lines inspired by art deco, kitsch and pop art, in complete contrast to the glossy designs of the time.

Not just objects, but symbols bearing memory, affection, and emotion.

The Tahiti lamp, created in 1981, with a profile that recalls a small bird with a long beak, responsible for having reconciled industrial production with art and poetry. Basic geometric shapes (a white parallelepiped decorated with black ‘bacterium’ motifs as a base, another yellow parallelepiped as a stem, a pink cylinder as a head and yet another red parallelepiped for a beak) merge together to transform the rigorous abstraction of geometries into an organic and playful whole.

Also Carlton, the famous bookcase designed by Sottsass in 1981 and produced by the Memphis group, with its strong identity, represents a historical period, a symbolic, postmodern object that is nowadays preserved and displayed in various permanent collections of some of the most eminent museums in the world.

Unusual anti-convex forms, bold combinations of color that have brought a new meaning to the concept of ‘design’.


In 1979 Ettore Sottsass donated to the CSAC – Study Center and Archive of Communication of the University of Parma almost 14,000 design materials and 24 sculptures. On the centenary of the artist’s birth, inspired by this precious donation, CSAC has launched an important exhibition and publishing project.

700 pieces selected from within the archive and set up according to a chronological narrative structure (beginning with a childish drawing from 1922), which highlight visual and methodological constants of the artist interpreted by the exhibition itinerary of the CSAC Archive-Museum. The title of the exhibition, Ettore Sottsass, In addition to design, refers to Sottsass’s own working practice, which goes beyond the specificity of his work as a designer towards a broader vision in which design has absolute centrality as a design tool, but first and foremost as a moment of reflection and formal verification.

The exhibition will occupy the evocative space of the Cistercian Abbey of Valserena, home of the CSAC, until May, 20th.

To remember and celebrate the centenary of his birth on September 14, 1917 many other events have been organized around the world. Amongst these was “There is a Planet”, a monograph curated by Barbara Radice, the Maestro’s wife, at the Milan Triennial until the 11 March. The title of the exhibition, and of the book, is that of a Sottsass project of the early 90’s for the German publisher Wasmuth, but never realized. The format of the book, now published by Electra, is in five sections, with five different titles and as many texts, photos taken by Sottsass during his travels around the world: pictures of architecture, houses, doors, people, general scenarios of Man’s presence throughout the planet. The main body of the exhibition, in nine rooms, is organized around nine separate themes starting with the library of archive volumes of the collected writings of Sottsass. Each theme/room and its group of works is accompanied by brief quotes from the texts to follow closely the path of his vision and of his vast, multifaceted activity: architecture, design, drawing, photography, painting, artifacts, furniture, sculpture, glass, ceramics, publishing and writing.

Along the walls of the gallery from which one accesses the individual rooms, are exhibited, on one side, works contextual to the themes of the rooms, and on the other, a selection of original photos highlighting the Maestro’s vision. Also on show is an unpublished collection of photographs from the early 60’s entitled ‘The girls from Antibes’. The exhibition is also made possible thanks to the collaboration and lending of works from public and private institutions and collectors such as the Pompidou Center and the Kandinsky Library in Paris, the CSAC Study Center and Archive of Communication in Parma, the Bruno Bischofberger Gallery in Männedorf and the Gallery Mourmans in Maastricht.

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