“Rebel and poet”, Vitra celebrates the design of Sottsass, founder of Memphis Group

Vitra-Rebel-and-poet-Ettore Sottsass-1974-Foto-Bruno-Gecchelin-cover

Rebel and poet is the title of the exhibition that Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein dedicates to  Italian designer Ettore Sottsass (1917 – 2007) for the centenary of his birth.

cover: Ettore Sottsass © Bruno Gecchelin, 1974 – By SIAE 2017 

Born in Innsbruck in 1917, Ettore Sottsass had been a leading figure of international design throughout his entire career: Artistic Director of  Poltronova from 1958 to 1974,  and designer for Olivetti since 1957, in 1969 he created the legendary Valentine, the colorful and lightweight portable typewriter, an iconic object now part of the design collections of museums all over the world.

Vitra-Rebel-and-Poet-Valentine-Ettore Sottsass-Perry A. King-1969-Foto Alberto Fioravanti

Valentine, Typewriter  Ettore Sottsass and Perry A. King, 1969  Manufacturer: Olivetti Photo: Alberto Fioravanti Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass.


Kubirolo, chest of drawers, 1966-1967 Manufacturer: Poltronova. Photo: Jürgen Hans 

Yet, the figure of Ettore Sottsass is inextricably linked to the Memphis Group, a brief experience in the 20th century design which broke out in 1981 and came to an end in 1988. Only seven years, which nevertheless were enough to spread throughout the world an unprecedented phenomenon which Stefano Casciani (*) defines “the perfect formula, appearance=content=market”.


Left: Tahiti, table lamp, 1981, Manufacturer: Memphis. Middle: Nr. 20084, Don, table lamp, 1977, Manufacturer: Stilnovo spa. Right: Halo Click, table lamp, approx. 1988, Manufacturer: Philips.  Photo: Jürgen Hans.

Taking the cue from the radical design of the 70s and the experimental work of Alchimia, combined with a curiosity for extra-European cultures and a natural flair for business, Sottsass understood that the time was ripe for designing, producing and selling objects and furniture connoted by few, clear distinctive characters; extreme styling, use of colors and decorations, utmost trust in the power of communication. Along with Michele de Lucchi, Matteo Thun, and Aldo Cibic – who, together with Sottsass, were the group founders – over time the Memphis community also included Andrea Branzi, Michel Graves, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Alessandro Mendini, Paola Navone, and Studio Alchimia, among others. Figures who, despite their worldwide fame, yet were somewhat overshadowed by the disruptive power of the Memphis brand. The cultural and commercial success was sensational with countless articles on magazines and newspapers, and museums, collectors and wealthy customers keen to pay ludicrous sums of money to acquire Memphis’ designs.

All that and much more is presented – from July 14 through September 24, 2017 – at the Vitra Campus’ Schaudepot, in an exhibition which features a large number of objects on view side by side with photographs, as well as with poems and writings by Sottsass himself.

(*) Stefano Casciani, Il postmodern: Nuovo design, Alchimia, Memphis, in Design in Italia, 1950-1990, publisher: Giancarlo Politi.


Drawings for the lamps Tahiti and Cavalieri, 1981 


Ashoka, table lamp, 1981 Manufacturer: Memphis Photo: Jürgen Hans 

Ettore Sottsass – Rebel and Poet
14 July / 24 September, 2017
Vitra Design Museum
Charles-Eames-Str. 2
D-79576 Weil am Rhein


Ettore Sottsass, 1988. Photo: Barbara Radice. Courtesy: Studio Ettore Sottsass 

Images courtesy of Vitra


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