Do you remembered Memphis?

exhibition at the design museum, london contemporary design gallery 7 september – 4 november 2001 and 24 november 2001 – 27 january 2002

The design museum marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of memphis, the legendary italian design collective led by the milanese designer and architect ettore sottsass.

Memphis was a landmark in design history. Sottsass called memphis design the new international style and plunged the sophisticated and influential milan design world into a labyrinth of visual irony, puns and provocations. The standards of 'good form' design that had been considered unassailable for years lost their claim to timeless validity for sottsass and his fellow-workers. the idea they had in common was to eliminate the peaceful conformity of furniture design and present concrete alternatives to the late 70s standard formal culture.

The playful colours, cheap materials and kitsch motifs of the furniture, ceramics and glassware unveiled by memphis designers at the 1981 milan furniture fair split the design world and caused a media sensation after years of drab rationalism.

Lots of brightly coloured, neo-1950s plastic laminates covering everything from crazy sideboards to bonkers beds. Was this gimcrack stuff really so influential? Had the brown-and-orange 1970s been so boring that product design had to descend into these cartoon capers? It was about turning the design world upside down.

The ideas of the memphis collective were embraced by design students of the time: memphis was the major influence on philippe starck, jasper morrison and marc newson...

Nathalie du Pasquier, one of the memphis team, describes it as 'a way of life, of transferring into the world of the western home the culture of rock music, travel and a certain excess'.

Jasper Morrison says: 'it was the weirdest feeling - you were in one sense repulsed by the objects, but also freed by this sort of total rule-breaking. I came back to college and immediately
did my one and only memphis piece (which hopefully has now disappeared forever).'

Memphis pieces were snapped up by international collectors such as paris based fashion designer, karl lagerfeld, he says: ' it was love at first sight. I'd just got an apartment in Monte Carlo and I could only imagine it in memphis. now it seems very 1980s, but the mood will come back. the pretensions of minimalism made it difficult for memphis in the 1990s, but I think sottsass is one of the design geniuses of the 20th century.'

Many designers still talk of memphis in the way that rock musicians of the same age speak of the clash and blondie. even the first Memphis exhibition opening in 1981attained the same iconic status in design circles as the sex pistols’ debut gig in music.

Ettore Sottsass himself :

'I'm always offended when they say that I play when I do memphis work; actually I 'm very serious, I'm never more serious than when I do memphis work. It's when I design machines for olivetti that I play.'and ' we draw our product-language stimuli not so much from institutionalized culture, not from technology, not from some sort of institutionalized certainty, but from spheres where everything starts afresh again, is uncertain, contradictory, without firm outlines.'

This exhibition recaptures the vitality of the work of sottsass, branzi, cibic, mendini, thun, de lucchi and the rest of the memphis collective at a time of growing interest in early 1980s aesthetics. As well as displaying many original pieces of memphis furniture, ceramics, lighting and glassware, 'memphis remembered' analyses the movement’s enduring influence over contemporary designers.

1) Who is Ettore Sottsass?
Other Ettore Sottsass designs
3) Powerpoint about Memphis (Author S.Smith)

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