Ettore Sottsass (Italian, born Austria, 1917), Designer; Memphis s.r.l., Manufacturer
Wood, plastic laminate; 76 3/4 x 74 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (194.9 x 189.9 x 40 cm)
John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, 1997 (1997.460.1ab)
Sottsass is not only one of the most influential designers of the latter half of the twentieth century but also one of the most paradoxical. While he has had a successful career producing industrial designs for the mainstream corporation Olivetti, for everything from typewriters and computers to office landscapes, he has also created strikingly unconventional consumer-oriented objects that challenge the bourgeois audience at which they are aimed to reassess its assumptions of the limits of "good taste." Between 1981 and 1988, Sottsass and a small international group of like-minded designers who called themselves Memphis created nonconformist furniture. The totemic "Carlton" room divider is an outstanding example of his Memphis designs. Although intended for a luxury market and of fine workmanship, it is made of cheap plastic laminates rather than fine woods. The vivid colors and seemingly random interplay of solids and voids suggest avant-garde painting and sculpture. Yet, typical of Sottsass, underlying the surface brilliance is an entirely logical structural system, of real and implied equilateral triangles.