By Jean Marie Carey

Ettore Sottsass died 31 January 2007. Born on 14 September 1917, Sottsass moved from Innsbruck to Turin with his family at the age of 11 and began studying architecture at the Politecnico, Turin, in 1939. In 1980 Sottsass Associati was founded, with Aldo Cibic and Marco Zanini, and in 1981 Sottsass created Memphis, the famous design group. Memphis used basic industrial materials such as plastic laminates and glass, combined with vivid colour, textures and decoration, to create optimistic, non-intellectual objects as a celebration of the ordinariness and honest banality of the mass environment.

The designer is best known for sharp-angled, colorful furniture designs from the 1980s, but his background in modernist architecture and the clear influence of the Bauhaus give his earlier creations – including tableware, typewriters, lamps, and desk accessories – an authorial stamp of functionality.

Sottsass’s obsession was handcrafted glass and ceramics, informed by his many trips to India. Sottsass also designed a postwar modern classic: the Olivetti manual typewriter of 1969, bright red and immediately accessioned by the Museum of Modern Art.

Reference: Sottsass, Ettore.“ Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. 

Further Reading: Albrecht Bangert and Karl Michael Armer. 80s Style: Designs of the Decade. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Ettore Sottsass. The Curious Mr. Sottsass: Photographing Design and Desire. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

“Carlton” Room Divider, 1981-c.1990. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Nr. 93.206.A,.B.

Murmansk Fruit Stand, Rossi e Arcandi Manufacturing, 1982. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Nr. 2003.275.A,.B.

Valentine Portable Typewriter and Case, Olivetti Manufacturing Company, 1969. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.

Asteroid Lamp, Poltronova Manufacturing, 1968. Museum of Modern Art, Nr. 2291.2001.

Indivia Salad Plate, Flavia Ceramics, c. 1985. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Nr. 2002.2806.

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