From Memphis to Milan

Going against the grain, Italian designer and architect ETTORE SOTTSASS prefers 'maximalism'. Words: Moira Jeffrey

In the l980s. if you were rich and stylish, Memphis was your number one destination. Not Memphis, Tennessee. but the Italian design group founded by Ettore Sottsass. Growing up in that period, even though there was never the remotest chance your mum was going to give up her allegiance to Parker Knoll or G-Plan. Memphis might have been the first gXOllC designer name you ever learned. Or even, as in my own case. the first time you realised that there were such people as furniture designers.

While in popular memory the boom and bust years of the 805 were all black ash and polished steel, Memphis design meant funky glass, coloured laminates and eccentric anti-functionalism. It was ironic. frequently kitsch and. although often beautiful, a

definite riposte to minimalism The Sottsass story is longer and more complex than a flash of brilliant colour on a Milan sofa.

and good taste.

‘l’m for maximalism,’ Sottsass said in a recent interview. “Minimalism is very Protestant. It believes there is a truth. l’m Mediterranean and from a Catholic country. For me, the truth is never reachable.’

His furniture mixed styles such as exaggerated neo-Classicism with diverse materials from fine wood to plastic. In the end. Memphis fizzled out, exhausted by imitations. but Sottsass kept on going. His life’s work has continued and his story is longer and more complex than a flash of brilliant colour on a Milan sofa.

64 TIIE LIST 8-22 Jul 1999

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Casa Yuko, Tokyo 1992

Ettore Sottsass, now in his 805, trained in architecture 60 years ago. He concentrated on design work during the massive economic development and social changes of Italian post-war reconstruction. His pioneering projects included early mainframe computers as chief designer for Olivetti. In the 605 he transformed the humble typewriter by producing'the Valentine, a red portable, at a time when all office equipment was black or grey.

From around I986, Sottsass began to practice as an architect, really for the first time since qualification. His buildings are colourful and complex. ‘I try to provide different kinds of spaces. corners to hide, different kinds of light. points of view, passages between the chaos outside and the peace inside,’ he has explained. His projects include European family homes often for figures with art world connections luxury housing in Singapore and recently a golf course in China. .

This Glasgow retrospective. covering the full scope of his work in glass, furniture and architectural projects. has itself become a design brief for Sottsass and his collaborators. Set in Glasgow School of Art over the summer break. the show will not only be situated in the Mackintosh Gallery, but also uses the painting studios themselves, with their unique light and space. The

exhibition has been developed with the architecture in mind Sottsass had lectured in

Glasgow in the past and welcomed the opportunity to respond to the building.

On 20 Jul, the designer will discuss his work with Deyan Sudjic. Glasgow I999 Director, at the Glasgow Film Theatre. For Sudjic, Sottsass is ‘one of the most distinctive and subversive designers of the 20th century’. Sottsass continues to combine wit, irreverence and style with a genuine passion for life. Memphis was clearly a st0pover and not the end of the journey.

Ettore Sottsass And Associati. Glasgow School of Art, Wed 21 Jul-Fri 24 Sep.


Sketches from the art world.

WE HAVE BEEN assured that, after two false starts, the Lighthouse in Glasgow will definitely be open to the public by Thu 8 Jul. Journalists arriving for the press opening of the 'Greek' Thomson exhibition at the end of June were given an incidental preview of the building - strictly hard hats only. Unfortunately at that stage it looked like almost any other building site. We apologise for any confusion caused by the dates given in the listings in our last issue - the information was up to date at time of going to press.

EDINBURGH'S COLLECTIVE GALLERY is calling for video submissions. Pixelvision will be an international touring video collection with showings in Edinburgh, Paris, New York and Melbourne and will be selected by John Beagles, Stephanie Smith and Charles Esche. The deadline is Tue 20 Jul and forms are available from the Collective at 22-28 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh EH1 1NY.

IF YOU’RE VISITING London this week, you have until 11 Jul to catch a video work by Glasgow-based and Irvine-bred Graham Fagen at the ICA. A mock-documentary on the not too imaginary Ayrshire housing estate of 'Nothank', this should be compulsory viewing for all, as a counter to those geography lessons on wonderful Scottish New Towns. Glossy literature from the Irvine Development Corporation (welcome to Burns Country) is beautifully contrasted with reality of bad planning and poor transport links.

A NUMBER OF the 'Five Spaces’ projects in' Glasgow are now complete and all will be open by October of this year. Part of 1999. 'Five Spaces’ aims to transform empty sites with collaborations between architects and contemporary artists. These are consistently imaginative commissions including the conversion of a contaminated bowling green in Possilpark with quirky input from David Shrigley; a new public square in Govanhill with a 'hut’ by Claire Barclay and architect Chris Platt, and the redevelopment of Whiteinch Cross including a light tower by Adam Barker Mill. (Moira Jeffrey)

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The Lighthouse