The cultural season starting in Bordeaux in June 2019 is dedicated to Freedom. The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (madd-bordeaux) is takqing part in this by hosting, in the former prison, the exhibition Memphis – Plastic Field, which was presented in 2018 at the Berengo Foundation alongside the 16th Venice Architecture Exhibition.
“We have become explorers. Maybe we can navigate wide, dangerous rivers and advance into jungles where no one has ever set foot”.
–Ettore Sottsass, 1981
Ettore Sottsass founded the Memphis Group in 1981, bringing together young architects around his strong personality. They dreamt of shattering the codes of modernity and rationalism; the culture they established was a vitalistic, instinctive reaction to the gentrification of design. Their first collection was exhibited in Milan. The exhibition, that opened on 18 September 1981, had the effect of a bomb in the European design scene. It radically renewed the language of shapes and colours that up until then was based on the sense and presence of the object, rather than on its function. Artists of all nationalities came together around Ettore Sottsass, including two Bordeaux artists Martine Bedin and Nathalie Du Pasquier. Together, they overturned the traditional principles of design, transforming a discipline that up until then had focused on production and rationality, to orientate it towards visual communication. They were filled with a sense of freedom that opened up a whole new scope of possibilities.
A strategy was devised to acquire an international reputation immediately. Ernesto Gismondi, chairman of the company Artemide, distributed the collection worldwide, thus providing essential exposure for the Memphis Group. The usual economic model gave way to unlimited production. The Carlton bookcase became an icon of Italian design all over the world. A thousand copies of the First chair, created by Michele De Lucchi, were soon sold. And the Super lamp, created by Martine Bedin, is still a best-seller.
By presenting this exhibition, madd-bordeaux continues the work inaugurated by Jacqueline du Pasquier, honorary curator of the museum, who in 1983 hosted in Bordeaux the first French exhibition devoted to the Memphis Group.
Exhibiting Memphis today also allows us to show the present-day pertinence of this impetus towards freedom that gave centre stage to democratic culture and focused on the aspects that elitist designers despised, i.e. ornamentation and decoration, by also highlighting spontaneity, sensuality and humour. As stated by Paris Match in 1983: “After Memphis, nothing was ever the same again in the history of interior design”.
Bringing together over 160 iconic works designed between 1981 and 1988, Memphis Plastic Field highlights the irreverent and subversive spirit of all these young designers. As well as these masterpieces, about thirty vases produced in Murano are exhibited.
“Memphis tried to breathe new life into the word “design”… The thing I like about all these Memphis objects is their playfulness. ”
Auction catalogue for Karl Lagerfeld’s Memphis collection, 13 October 1991
The museum would like to thank Alberto Bianchi Albrici and the company Memphis Srl, that co-produced the exhibition and lent most of the works.
20 designers / more than 160 pieces : Martine Bedin, Thomas Bley, Andrea Branzi, Aldo Cibic, Michele De Lucchi, Nathalie Du Pasquier, Michael Graves, Massimo Iosa Ghini, Shiro Kuramata, Javier Mariscal, Alessandro Mendini, Maria Sanchez, Peter Shire, Ettore Sottsass, George J. Sowden, Gerard Taylor, Matteo Thun, Masanori Umeda, Marco Zanini et Marco Jr. Zanuso.