For anyone with an interest in 20th century design, MEMPHIS – Plastic Field is a must-visit exhibition. Staged to coincide with this year’s Architecture Biennale, it’s a vibrant, uplifting show dedicated to the Memphis Group – a short-lived but highly influential design movement founded by Ettore Sottsass and a group of young Italian architects and designers in Milan in the early 1980s.
Taking its name from a Bob Dylan song that happened to be playing during the inaugural meeting of its members, the Memphis Group was a design collective born as a playful rebuke to the minimalist aesthetic and austerity of mid-century modernism.
In the six years until the collective was formally disbanded in 1987, Memphis produced an eclectic spectrum of products ranging from sofas and lamps to textiles and dressing tables. Drawing inspiration from the Pop Art and Art Deco movements, their designs were characterized by loud primary colours, unconventional geometries and experimental, whimsical forms. Although their furniture wasn’t a great commercial success at the time, their mischievous, iconoclastic design aesthetic had a strong influence on late 80s pop culture, from the zany graphics of MTV to set designs in films and TV programmes such as Back to the Future II and Saved by the Bell.
Co-curated by Adriano Berengo and Jean Blanchaert, the exhibition presents a wide array of contemporary productions of the group’s original designs. Among the highlights are Sottsass’ iconic “Carlton bookcase”, Martin Bedin’s “Super Lamp”, and Masanori Umeda’s “Tawaraya’s boxing ring bed” – a piece which, along with a vast range of other furniture from Memphis’ pilot collection, was bought by Karl Lagerfeld for his home in Monaco. Significantly, the exhibition also includes a room that explores the impact that Memphis had on Murano glass production during the ‘80s and beyond.
Staged within the imposing neo-Gothic interiors of Palazzo Franchetti, this enlightening and entertaining show is on view for just a couple more weeks; catch it while you can.
MEMPHIS – Plastic Field is at Fondazione Berengo, Palazzo Franchetti, San Marco 2847 until 25th November 2018.