"Carlton" Room Divider

Designer: Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan)

Manufacturer: Memphis Milano

Date: 1981

Medium: Wood, plastic laminate

Dimensions: 76 3/4 x 74 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (194.9 x 189.9 x 40 cm)

Classification: Furniture

Credit Line: John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.460.1a–d


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 been iconoclastic as well, creating 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 "Carleton" 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.