Ettore Sottsass (Italian (born Austria), Innsbruck 1917–2007 Milan)
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
On view at The Met Breuer on Floor 3
The totemic Carlton room divider is a Memphis icon. The piece calls into question conventional furniture forms by combining a space divider, bookcase, and chest of drawers. Intended for the higher end of the market and finely handcrafted, it is made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and cheap plastic laminate, a subversion of high and low. The vivid colors and seemingly random interplay of solids and voids suggest avant-garde painting and sculpture. Yet underlying the surface is an entirely logical structural system of real and implied equilateral triangles. While at first sight the slanted shelving seems counterintuitive, it accommodates books which often fall over in upright shelving. The divider is open to interpretation: it may be read variously as a robot greeting the user with open arms, a many-armed Hindu goddess, or even a triumphant man atop a constructed chaos of his own making.
Marking: [label right side at bottom]: MEMPHIS /MILANO /ETTORE SOTTSASS /1981 /MADE IN ITALY
John C. Waddell, New York (1985–97; his gift to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Recent Acquisitions of Twentieth-Century Design and Architecture," June 29–November 14, 1999, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Significant Objects," November 26, 2002–May 2, 2004, no catalogue.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Il Modo Italiano: Italian Design and Avant-garde in the 20th Century," May 4–August 27, 2006, no. 325.
Toronto. Royal Ontario Museum. "Il Modo Italiano: Italian Design and Avant-garde in the 20th Century," October 21, 2006–January 7, 2007, no. 325.
Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto. "Il Modo Italiano: Italian Design and Avant-garde in the 20th Century," March 3–June 3, 2007, no. 325.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Modern Design: Selections from the Collection," May 30–October 5, 2008, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Highlights from the Modern Design Collection: 1900–Present, Part II," May 23, 2011–July 1, 2012, no catalogue.
Penny Sparke. Ettore Sottass Jnr. London, 1982, p. 79.
Hans Höger. Ettore Sottsass, Jun.: Designer, Artist, Architect. Tübingen, 1993, colorpl. 81, calls it "Room divider Carlton".
J. Stewart Johnson in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1997–1998." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 56 (Autumn 1998), p. 65, ill. (color).
Patrizia Ranzo. Ettore Sottsass. Ed. Andrea Branzi. Milan, 2011, ill. p. 73 (color).