Designer: Ettore Sottsass

Wright celebrates the radical vision of Ettore Sottsass, one of the most celebrated and formative designers of the late 20th century. With his anarchic and sensual approach to design, Sottsass helped usher in postmodernism. Wright has over $2 million dollar in sales for Sottsass' iconic works.  
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When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting.

Ettore Sottsass

Five Things to Know about Ettore Sottsass

In the 1940s, after being a prisoner of war, Sottsass worked for his father, a famous architect, as well as George Nelson—both prompted him to abandon corporate modernism and develop his own radical vision of design.

One of his best known and most iconic designs, the Olivetti Valentine typwriter from 1968, was a commercial failure.

Sottsass's bright, totemic ceramics and Superboxes were influenced by the colors, forms and eastern sensibilities he encountered visiting Southern India in 1961.

Sottsass obsessively took photographs, building a vast visual vocabulary and capturing the most minute details of his life and many travels. For a while, he made it a habit to photograph every hotel room he had slept with a woman in.

In 1972, Sotsass contributed to the landmark exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Environment was a modular unit, utopic in its design, containing everything one would need to live and could be made for solitary or communal living.

Sottsass' Environment, 1972

When I began designing machines I also began to think that these objects, which sit next to each other and around people, can influence not only physical conditions but also emotions. They can touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes and the moods of people.

Ettore Sottsass

MEMPHIS

Italians are always like 'Let's invent the radical, let's do something new; let's get on everybody's nerves from noon to night with some utopia or some metaphor.
Ettore Sottsass

Ettore Sottsass was the founder of the radical Memphis group, which emerged in 1981. The group was comprised of many notable designers including Nathalie du Pasquier, Shiro Kuramata, Marco Zanuso, Peter Shire, Andrea Branzi, Michael Graves and George Sowden to name a few. For Memphis Sottsass created designs rooted in a utopic irrationality as a reaction against the austere minimalism that had come to dominate art and design in the 1970s. Inspired by kitsch, "bad taste," Art Deco forms and a vibrant, global color palette, Memphis group's first show in 1981 at the Salone del Mobile of Milan was described as one critic as "a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher Price" and commercially unsuccessful.

Sottsass left the group in 1985 to focus on his own design firm, Sottsass Associati, and the group dissolved in 1988. Though short-lived, Memphis' influence came to define much of the 1980s and early 1990s pop aesthetic and today, Memphis remains an enduring design touchstone of 20th century design.

Decoration can be a state of mind, an unusual perception, a ritual whisper.

Ettore Sottsass

Ettore Sottsass 1917–2007

Ettore Sottsass is one of the most significant designers and architects of the late 20th Century, his bold and colorful, Post Modern aesthetic enlivening objects, furniture and interiors and influencing design around the world. Born in Innsbruck, Austria in 1917, Sottsass and his family moved to Turin, Italy in 1929 so he could study architecture at the Politecnico di Turino. He graduated with a degree in architecture in 1939 but he was called to serve the Italian army during World War II and he spent most of the war in a concentration camp. Upon his return in 1945, he worked for his father, Ettore Sottsass senior, an architect practicing in Turin, before relocating to Milan to curate a craft exhibition at the 1946 Triennale.

In Milan, Sottsass began writing for the art and architectural magazine, Domus. It was also here in Milan that Sottsass founded his own architectural and industrial design practice establishing a name for himself by the end of the 1950s with the design of fashionable office equipment for Olivetti. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Sottsass created radical and experimental designs for forward thinking companies like Poltronova. Sottsass’ exploration of a new visual language included collaborating with artists such as Alessandro Mendini and Andrea Branzi and culminated in the formation of the radical design collective, Memphis whose work was widely accepted and shown all over the world.

Notable architectural projects by Sottsass include the interiors of a chain of stores for Esprit (1985) and the Malpensa airport near Milan (2000). He received many awards and honors throughout his lifetime and his work has been the subject of numerous international publications and exhibitions including a recent retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Designs by Sottsass can be found in the permanent collections of many museums including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

A room should have a few objects in it, and those objects should be so intense they vibrate.

Ettore Sottsass

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