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Defining Italian Design

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Italy’s Big 4 

Sottsass, Mari, Ponti and Pesce, say these names quickly and you’ll conjure up a wish list of iconic design pieces.  Ettore Sottsass, Enzo Mari, Gìo Ponti and Gaetano Pesce were Italy’s big four of design, transforming simple design objects into functional and gorgeous works of art.  Their creations line the permanent collections of  New York’s MoMA in New York, Milan’s Museo del Design Italiano at the Triennaleand the Musèe des Arts Decoratifs MAD in Paris.  And their work established Milan and Lombardia the design center of the world for decades to come. 

Design Revolution 

Vintage Italian Design elements celebrated at Palazzo della Triennale in Milan, Italy.

In 1950s, a new generation of designers and industrialists joined forces to dominate the squad of family furniture factories – Cassina, Kartell, Danese, Cappellini, Molteni, and Artemide, to name just a few. They specialized specific type manufacturing and brought in a dream team of artists who mixed innovation, craftsmanship and creativity

By 1970, Italy was at the forefront of all design.  “The emergence of Italy … has influenced the work of every other European country and is now having its effect in the United States,” wrote architect Emilio Ambasz  in the forward to Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibition at the MoMA. Memphis, Superstudio, Archizoom, and more paved the way for the turn of the century and it’s no surprise that  2021 continues to idolize these pioneers. Enter: Sottsass, Mari, Ponti and Pesce

Enzo Mari

The Designer Enzo Mari at work

Emphatic provocateur, Mari was inspired by form.  His illustrious career included graphics, painting, furniture, and product design, and there was no arena of visual art and design that he didn’t impact. The post-modernists emblematic style was minimal forms, well-thought material, and clever color, fundamental to the history of Italian and world design.

Mari’s designs were intended for function and function, and subsequently became some of the most coveted pieces for collectors. His most famous designs include the Sof Sof chair (1971), the Box chair (1971) and the Tonietta chair (1985), which has been mimicked for decades.

Ettore Sottsass

Sottsass Centenary Exhibition in the Palazzo della Triennale in Milan, Italy. 

Sottsass’s career breakthrough happened in 1958 when he took a job with Italian typewriter manufacturer Olivetti and designed some of his most iconic designs, like the Valentine typewriter and the Elea 9003 computer which won the Compasso d’Oro prize in 1959.

Pushing the boundaries between pop culture and industrial design and pop culture, Sottsass band pushing the boundaries between pop culture and industrial design and pop culture, Sottsass banded together with a gang of design friends in 1980.  “Memphis style” played around with color, form, patterns and material to forge a new approach to design. It was this playfulness, mixed with innovation and a constant curiosity for every objects that always inspired Sottsass. ed together with a gang of design friends in 1980.  “Memphis style” played around with color, form, patterns and material to forge a new approach to design. It was this playfulness, mixed with innovation and a constant curiosity for every objects that always inspired Sottsass.

Gìo Ponti

Giò Ponti in 1950

Ponti is considered one of the most influential design visionaries of the 20th century. And that’s a fact.

Not only did he found Domus, the architecture and design magazine that to this day inspires creatives around the world, Ponti created a vast amount of work at every scale from incredible furniture and products (ceramics, lamps, glassware, oh my!) and to astounding architecture.

For Ponti, design was all about the overlap of art and architecture. His legacy includes 1953 Distex Armchair, 1957 Superleggera chair for Cassina, Milan’s Pirelli tower, Sorrento’s Hotel Parco dei Principi and the Denver Art Museum.

Gaetano Pesce

Giò Ponti in 19Gaetano Pesce works on his “Palladio da Padova” Torino, Italy (2007)

Artist, architect, designer, Pesce is both pioneer and prophet who has been mesmerizing for more than half a century with his particular design aesthetics and unexpected materials like material  resin, foam, fabric, and polyurethane.

Fish design by Gaetano Pesce Pompitu Vase

Concept comes first in Pesce’s work, and his pieces – art, design, architecture, performance – are experiments in form, material, color and voice. No matter what they are always fun.  A bit pop, a bit punk , Pesce mixes wit with innovation and charges his work with political and social issues. Pesce’s iconic work include 1969 UP5 La Mamma Chair for B&B Italia, 1986 Feltri Chair, 2012 Il Giullare Sofa, and Osaka’s Organic Building (1989).

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