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Ettore Sottsass (Italian, born Austria. 1917–2007)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Austrian architect and designer, active in Italy. He was the son of the architect Ettore Sottsass sr. Sottsass jr moved to Turin with his family at the age of 11 and qualified in architecture at the Politecnico, Turin, in 1939. Convinced of the role of colour as creator of space and as a means of breaking with the monochromatic preferences of the Rationalists, he developed a close relationship with avant-garde artists, organizing the first international exhibition of abstract art in Milan. His design for the Grassotti publicity stand (1948), an abstract composition of organic curves in laminated plywood, pays tribute to such Surrealist sculptors as Alexander Calder. In the early 1950s he concentrated on architecture. In the block of workers’ dwellings (1951), Romentino, Novara, he explored the relationship between architecture, terrain and climate, emphasizing the social function of spatial organization in encouraging community interaction. References to vernacular building types and the inclusion of traditional communal spaces, such as staircases and balconies, are also evident in later housing schemes at Arborea (1952), in Sardinia, and Meina (1954), into which textured surfaces, colours and decorative elements are integrated.

In 1958 Sottsass began a long collaboration with the Olivetti Company, exploring the symbolic and psychological aspects of electronic and office machinery design. The monolithic forms and colour symbolism of the ELEA 9003 computer (1959) and the subsequent series of light-weight portable typewriters, such as the Lettera De Luxe (1965) and the bright red plastic Valentine (1969) represented a radical departure, both aesthetically and ergonomically, from conventional design. Visits to India and East Asia in the 1960s and a serious illness in 1962 led to the absorption of new influences. The abstract decorative patterns used for the pottery series the Ceramics of Darkness (1963) and the Ceramics to Shiva (1964) suggested a more mystical relationship between people and objects. The influence of Pop art, already visible in the bright plastic seats and two-dimensional photo-murals of the Gughelmone Bar (1962) in Milan, became clearly evident in the furniture series designed for Poltronova (1965–7). Breaking with the conventions that characterized Italian design at this time, he aimed to reverse the role of furniture as status symbol by using the thick, coloured stripes seen in the work of Pop artists and signs drawn from the mass environment to emphasize the communicative power of everyday objects and images. Through this work Sottsass became a leading exponent of the radical ‘Anti-Design’ movement that emerged in the late 1960s. In the Mickey Mouse Table (1972), designed for Bonacina, and the Yellow Secretary’s Chair (1973), for Olivetti, bright colours and chunky cartoon forms express humour and familiarity.

In 1980 Sottsass Associati was founded, with Aldo Cibic (b 1955) and Marco Zanini (b 1954), and in 1981 Sottsass created Memphis, a design group with an innovative philosophy of design. The group 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.

From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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