Enzo Mari 1932–2020
Irascible, polemical, and influential are just a few of the words most commonly associated with Italian artist, designer, critic, and theorist Enzo Mari, who is perhaps most famous for his favorite (and oft-repeated) quote: “Design is dead”. Born and raised in Cerano, a region of Piedmont, Mari moved to Milan in 1947 and worked a variety of jobs before enrolling in the prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in 1952. He studied art and literature with a specific focus on the psychology of vision, the planning of perceptive structures, and the methodology of design. Not long after graduating he met Bruno Danese, co-founder of the eponymous design brand Danese; it was an encounter that would shape the remainder of Mari’s career.
Danese and Mari both felt strongly that good design should be accessible, economic, and affordable. Mari designed a multitude of creations for the company, including the much admired 16 Animali wooden puzzle. Inspired by his own children as well as his research into Scandinavian toys, it was a toy made from a single piece of oak that, with one continuous cut, came apart into 16 separate animals. Mari went on to conceive of over 1500 designs for many premier Italian design companies including Driade, Artemide, Zanotta and Magis. He also created illustrations, books with Einaudi and Bollati Boringhieri, and works for children. One of his most memorable projects, and the one which best demonstrates his belief that design should be accessible to all, was his Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione (Proposal for a Self-design) series. It consisted of a set of diagrams that allowed anyone to build DIY furniture with cuts of pine and some nails, the instructions for which Mari would mail to anyone who sent him postage.
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