Without Light, There is No Color

A Rare Lamp by Ettore Sottsass

In 1926, Luciano Baldessari designed his iconic Luminator light sculpture for the Barcelona International Exhibition of 1929. Conceived as a sculpture, or as the artist described it, a “mechanized mannequin,” the work was more of an expression of an idea than a solution to a lighting problem. This work stands as the agitator for a lineage of Italian lights that broke with the prevalent classicism of the Novecento tradition, ushering in the modern era of design in Italy. The motif of a light column with flaring top was further streamlined in 1936 by Pietro Chiesa whose form expressed the zeitgeist of Italy between the wars. Within five years, all of Italy’s infrastructure would be destroyed, leaving artists and architects to ponder a bleak future but with a clear vision to depart from the tragic past.

Sottsass says, “when you mix colors, you’re not simply mixing colors. You are making a statement by combining the colors just as you would put together a sentence, word by word. And in the end, a meaning emerges.”

“Design arrived in Italy as a theoretical thought, not as practice” according to Ettore Sottsass, Jr., whose father’s architecture adhered to Rationalist principles. A young Ettore broke from his Rational fundamentals to pursue a more plastic art, focusing on the creative practice of the Abstract Expressionists in America. Additionally, an intellectual undercurrent to the early architectural work by Sottsass fostered an exploration of the metaphysical and spiritual.

The present floor lamp, one of only a few known examples, bookends a creative period in the late 1950s for Ettore Sottsass. His illuminated sculptural lights at this time are designed for function but also as a creative endeavor. The progression of form in his lamps appear as totems or signals and, as Sottsass says, “when you mix colors, you’re not simply mixing colors. You are making a statement by combining the colors just as you would put together a sentence, word by word. And in the end, a meaning emerges.”

The vessels are more than simply decorative objects; they are talismans, containers whose purpose, like architecture, is about expressing the void.

A simple geometry of a turned flaring column appears often in Sottsass’ oeuvre, starting with this Luminator lamp, reappearing at different scales and proportions in colorful series of enigmatic ceramics, enamels and glass from the 1950s through the 1970s. The vessels are more than simply decorative objects; they are talismans, containers whose purpose, like architecture, is about expressing the void. The lights, in turn, illuminate the darkness, because “without light, there is no color.” This seemingly familiar yet unknown geometry is referred to as Svatsura, or countersink. The idea is the drilled hole with a second, countersunk space that is the domain of the carpenter. Here, that void is the form, and its opposite is the void that surrounds the vessel in infinite space. This intellectual, spacial flip finds a final expression in the Callimaco lamp of 1982.

Anonymous, abstract, mathematical space can be turned into something human and real if one can squeeze out of it the colors it contains.

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.

Learn More

Upcoming Lots Ettore Sottsass

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Ivory occasional table | Wright20.com

102

Ettore Sottsass

Ivory occasional table
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Euphrates vase | Wright20.com

106

Ettore Sottsass

Euphrates vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Diva mirror | Wright20.com

107

Ettore Sottsass

Diva mirror
estimate: $1,500–2,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Hyatt occasional tables, pair | Wright20.com

109

Ettore Sottsass

Hyatt occasional tables, pair
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Max bookcase | Wright20.com

111

Ettore Sottsass

Max bookcase
estimate: $10,000–15,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Casablanca cabinet | Wright20.com

120

Ettore Sottsass

Casablanca cabinet
estimate: $6,000–8,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Murmansk centerpiece | Wright20.com

122

Ettore Sottsass

Murmansk centerpiece
estimate: $3,000–5,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Manhattan cart | Wright20.com

125

Ettore Sottsass

Manhattan cart
estimate: $600–800

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Mimosa occasional table | Wright20.com

126

Ettore Sottsass

Mimosa occasional table
estimate: $1,500–2,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Malabar cabinet | Wright20.com

138

Ettore Sottsass

Malabar cabinet
estimate: $5,000–7,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Carlton bookcase | Wright20.com

147

Ettore Sottsass

Carlton bookcase
estimate: $7,000–9,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Jane centerpiece | Wright20.com

157

Ettore Sottsass

Jane centerpiece
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Bay table lamp | Wright20.com

167

Ettore Sottsass

Bay table lamp
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Yemen vase | Wright20.com

168

Ettore Sottsass

Yemen vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Astidamia vase | Wright20.com

169

Ettore Sottsass

Astidamia vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Sol fruit bowl | Wright20.com

170

Ettore Sottsass

Sol fruit bowl
estimate: $1,500–2,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Sirio vase | Wright20.com

171

Ettore Sottsass

Sirio vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Ashoka table lamp | Wright20.com

183

Ettore Sottsass

Ashoka table lamp
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Quisana ceiling light | Wright20.com

193

Ettore Sottsass

Quisana ceiling light
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Holebid coffee table | Wright20.com

196

Ettore Sottsass

Holebid coffee table
estimate: $2,000–3,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, wristwatch | Wright20.com

197

Ettore Sottsass

wristwatch
estimate: $500–700

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Tartar console | Wright20.com

199

Ettore Sottsass

Tartar console
estimate: $5,000–7,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Alaska vase | Wright20.com

200

Ettore Sottsass

Alaska vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Beverly sideboard | Wright20.com

201

Ettore Sottsass

Beverly sideboard
estimate: $5,000–7,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Cream occasional able | Wright20.com

202

Ettore Sottsass

Cream occasional able
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Tahiti table lamp | Wright20.com

203

Ettore Sottsass

Tahiti table lamp
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Survetta bookcase | Wright20.com

204

Ettore Sottsass

Survetta bookcase
estimate: $6,000–8,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Treetops floor lamp | Wright20.com

210

Ettore Sottsass

Treetops floor lamp
estimate: $1,500–2,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, City table | Wright20.com

215

Ettore Sottsass

City table
estimate: $2,000–3,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Enorme telephone | Wright20.com

216

Ettore Sottsass

Enorme telephone
estimate: $300–500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Circulus brooch | Wright20.com

219

Ettore Sottsass

Circulus brooch
estimate: $150–200

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Giotto table mirror | Wright20.com

220

Ettore Sottsass

Giotto table mirror
estimate: $700–900

ETTORE SOTTSASS, collection of three plates | Wright20.com

221

Ettore Sottsass

collection of three plates
estimate: $700–900

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Niobe vase | Wright20.com

222

Ettore Sottsass

Niobe vase
estimate: $1,500–2,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Amaltea vase | Wright20.com

223

Ettore Sottsass

Amaltea vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Mizar vase | Wright20.com

224

Ettore Sottsass

Mizar vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Clesitera vase | Wright20.com

225

Ettore Sottsass

Clesitera vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Agelada vase | Wright20.com

226

Ettore Sottsass

Agelada vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Deneb goblet | Wright20.com

227

Ettore Sottsass

Deneb goblet
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Neobule vase | Wright20.com

228

Ettore Sottsass

Neobule vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Mandarin table | Wright20.com

229

Ettore Sottsass

Mandarin table
estimate: $3,000–5,000

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Callimaco floor lamp | Wright20.com

230

Ettore Sottsass

Callimaco floor lamp
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Tahiti earrings | Wright20.com

238

Ettore Sottsass

Tahiti earrings
estimate: $50–75

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Nilo vase | Wright20.com

239

Ettore Sottsass

Nilo vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, Tigris vase | Wright20.com

241

Ettore Sottsass

Tigris vase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, miniature Carlton bookcase | Wright20.com

258

Ettore Sottsass

miniature Carlton bookcase
estimate: $1,000–1,500

ETTORE SOTTSASS, miniature Casablanca cabinet | Wright20.com

259

Ettore Sottsass

miniature Casablanca cabinet
estimate: $1,000–1,500

Auction Results Ettore Sottsass