MEMPHIS This construction of round and rectangular columns, cylindrical and block-shaped plates and various blades can not be interpreted at a single glance. Is it a sculpture or a piece of furniture with various table tops? The components, which are apparently randomly stacked, are distinguished from each other by the colors and the use of materials. Bright red contrasts with white, black and brown.
The upholstery conceals the use of materials: some forms are covered with laminate (pressed plastic), others with veneer with a wood structure or are painted with spray paint. This object from 1985,….>>
designated as a console and entitled Tartar, can be considered as one of the most characteristic designs of the Memphis design group. Their designs are often asymmetrical in shape, the individual parts are distinguished by bright color surfaces and the difference between false or real is not easy to make: what looks precious as natural stone or marble, can be colored veneer or laminate. With seemingly expensive kitsch materials or cheap high-quality fabrics, the viewer is put on the wrong foot. The instigator of this design phenomenon is the designer of this console, Ettore Sottsass jr.
THE CREATION OF MEMPHIS
The industrial designer Sottsass was a versatile man who was inspired by such diverse examples as artisans in India and the American pop art. As a result, he automatically came more in the direction of visual art. In the seventies he became fascinated by the American Pattern & Decoration and he mixed eastern philosophy with Western technology such as quartz clocks, computer graphics and pop videos.
In 1981, Sottsass assembled a number of young designers in Milan one evening at home to philosophize about new movements. They are opposed to functionalism and modernism, but also to the so-called ‘radical design’ that already existed in Italy, although there was a lot of talk but no objects were made. That evening the Memphis group was established under his inspiring leadership. Instead of a new fashion or group program, he saw Memphis as a “genetic and spontaneous mutation of the chromosomes of international design”.
HUMOR AND IRONIE
He shaped the new mentality of this international style, as he called it, for example in the Beverly sideboard (left) and the Carlton room divider (below), both from 1981. Beverly consists of wood, veneer and laminate, but also a bare rod with light bulb. The laminate shows teeming chromosomes or bacteria. Carlton has used various pastel colors and decorative laminates, such as a green ‘snakeskin’. The supports for books are slanted, because books in a straight bookcase always fall over when the shelf is not completely filled. This is not a functionalism of Sottsass, but humor.
Humor and irony play an important role in the designs of Milan-based design collective Memphis. In addition to the core of designers, Memphis invited a number of well-known architects and talented young people each year to make a contribution.
With a sophisticated marketing strategy, the annual editions were announced internationally. In principle, the designs are unlimited, although in the beginning there was a numbered edition, in addition to experimental models with variations. But the circulation of each object was very different. In total, until the closure in 1987, the group produced about 150 objects in catalogs, many of which can still be ordered.
They are explicitly meant to be given a place in private interiors and to call up all kinds of associations as decor pieces. Their poetic appearance, the bright colors, the playful shapes and decorations, and the fanciful names suggest that they have no fixed place and function, but are meant to look just like a work of art.
Memphis not only manufactured furniture, but also lamps, ceramics, glass and utensils. Inspiration from toys was just as acceptable as from art or cultural history, such as Art Deco or, in terms of colors, De Stijl and American hard edge painting. The bright blue table or floor lamp Super (right) of the Frenchwoman Martine Bedin is reminiscent of a porcupine on wheels, where the spines are formed by six fittings in various colors. Director Frans Haks of the Groninger Museum adopted the name super later in his concept ‘Super & Popular’: something that is very popular is not necessarily bad, but can be loved because it has a ‘super quality’.