Memphis Design Needs Some New Heirs

THE DAILY PIC: The great Postmodern designers bore less fruit than they should have.

Carlton, designed by Ettore Sottsass

THE DAILY PIC: One of the most stimulating shows of the current season is split between the Koenig & Clinton and Joe Sheftel galleries in New York; they are presenting classic postmodern furniture (mostly) from the early 1980s and (mostly) made for the Italian design collective called Memphis. Today’s Pic is a room-divider-cum-bookshelf called Carlton, designed by Ettore Sottsass and produced in 1981. What’s strange about the work in these shows is that, while the excitement of its anti-modern, anti-Bauhaus stance is absolutely palpable, it’s also clear that it had surprisingly little long-term effect (compared, say to Bauhaus modernism). That may be because the Memphisites realized that the possibility of decoration had to be recovered for new design, without coming up with a profound new mechanism for generating it: Their ornament stayed, maybe deliberately … superficial, which made it less useful as a tool for their descendants to use. As a friend pointed out, today’s clearest heirs to Memphis are the chairs in the children’s department at Ikea.

With today’s endless reheating of modernist tropes–I include Gehry and Hadid as reheaters–there’s nothing we need more than another Memphis … for grownups.

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