CULTURE

Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass for Cleto Munari

Design for the senses and sensing design: Pieces by uber-gurus of contemporary Italian design Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass are on display at the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art in a collection aptly titled «La Seduzione» (Seduction). The items were designed for the Cleto Munari collection, while their Athenian presentation was undertaken by design aficionado and acute businessman Yiannis Deloudis; the exhibition’s concept and supervision belongs to Sotirios Papadopoulos, a Greek architect based in Italy. «Design is invention, finding a new way of communicating – a miraculous one,» said Mendini to Kathimerini English Edition. At the DESTE, Mendini’s Murano objects have a power of their own: An explosion of color, featuring bubbling glass shapes confined in metal. (These were produced in 50 signed pieces.) Meanwhile, Sottsass presents a stunning debut collection of jewelry, featuring solid gold with lapis lazuli and coral, for instance – all defined by a feeling of geometry and architecture. «Design is a little bit of an elitist word,» said Mendini. «But if instead of saying design we referred to it as applied arts, that has been around for everyone for the last 6,000 years. So, personally, I consider what I do as applied arts. Italian design is particular, however, as it has to do with style.» Born in Milan in 1931, Mendini is an architect, writer and painter. As an editor of magazines such as Casabella, Modo and Domus, he constantly established bridges with art, while publishing the books «Paesaggio Casalingo» (Domestic Landscape) and «Addio Architettura» (Farewell Architecture) among others. In 1979, he established Studio Alchymia, a cultural movement, while his works reside in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In architecture, he is known for the designing the Teatro di Arezzo and the Groningen Museum in Holland, among many others. Mendini is also a founding father of the school of «global tools.» An introspective man, Mendini uses his creations as a means of talking to the rest of the world. Some of his celebrated pieces include Proust’s Chair, a structure inspired by the Louis XV style, hand-painted with a motif reminiscent of the work of French artist Signac. Mendini, is also credited with the Anna G. collection for design powerhouse Alessi (He has been a company consultant since 1979.) Originally designed as a corkscrew as a part of the Alessi/Philips marketing operation, the line was so successful that it was followed by other items. «Design participates in the scientific and technological process, therefore a little bit of control might be necessary,» said Mendini. «The journey toward technology is a return to humanism, people are reminded to work less, more quietly, and have less financial stress. Technology can help if it is used as a means rather than an end. Otherwise it can kill.» From a political point of view, Mendini feels that there are clear distinctions when it comes to ethnicity in design; a certain element of joy when mixing cultures. He works with ancient Egyptian, Indonesian and Finnish elements, for instance, and in this respect he feels that design is far more advanced than politics. At the same time, there are certain precise qualities, certain historical values in all places, which should not be removed. «Design which is not too technological can be tied to tradition and should stay that way,» said Mendini, citing Murano craftmanship as an example. «The pieces of a car, on the other hand, come from different parts of the world: That is globalization.» Going global has to do with the people as well. A Japanese architect, for example, can work in Milan and vice versa. «This is a delicate situation, an issue open to discussion,» said Mendini. «In architecture, for instance, there are 40 leaders around the world and they work all over the globe. And they have to have to do these intellectual gymnastics in order not to colonialize but to work in a place they don’t know. It all depends on how serious the person is.» Currently involved in designing a number of new metro stations in Naples, Mendini continues to mix art, design and architecture. «Instead of enhancing the desire to compete in the market, design has to inspire poetry, even spirituality,» said Mendini. «It’s an artistic phenomenon. Art in utility.» «La Seduzione,» works by Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass at the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, 8 Omirou, Neo Psychico, tel 210.672.9460. To tomorrow. Collector extraordinaire «When someone comes to me saying that they want to be a designer, I say, ‘Change jobs; it’s really hard,’» said Cleto Munari to Kathimerini English Edition. «When I started, I didn’t focus on the financial aspect but on enjoying myself. I always wanted to find new ways to create something special – beyond market rules.» Born in Gorizia in 1903, Munari’s involvement with design began at the age of 40, when he met prominent architect Carlo Scarpa. He then went to meet Sottsass and other leading figures. «Being close and talking to these people, being allowed to see how they worked, was like seeing the sun,» he said. As Munari developed into a collector extraordinaire, he also began designing pieces himself – some of his work is featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. «Industrialization has lowered design’s quality,» said Munari, adding that this has led to its simplification. «Back in the ’60s, a group of Italians took Italian design to the world. Today there are a million local designers out there, new generations of British, French, perhaps a few Dutch designers, have emerged, while in Italy, the situation is chaotic.» One of Munari’s upcoming projects includes a series of houses in Samothrace, to be conceived by an international league of architects.