“I have always believed that design begins where rationality ends and where the magic begins,” said the architect and designer Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007), who, due to his creative strength, was often mistaken for a sculptor. In particular, his artistic genius is evident in his work with glass. Sottsass began working with glass in the late 1940s, but the peak of his work came in the 1980s, coinciding with the start of the Memphis project. It is from here that Sottsass, together with his wife Barbara Radice, began to redefine the concept of living. Perhaps it is his approach to design that still makes him incredibly relevant today and is the reason for the recent surge in interest, with hundreds of exhibitions dedicated to him all over the world. Probably, even today, we are experiencing the same need for novelty, color, and extravagance to counteract the rigidity and monotony that once again tried to take hold of our imagination.
Returning to his glass production, observing the pieces from the Memphis collection – which are currently on display in the Milan showroom (Brera) during Milan Glass Week – what strikes you is the brilliance of the shapes and vibrant colors, typical of the Murano style. It is here that Sottsass begins his first encounter with the material, and it is in this place, alongside the Murano masters, that he discovers its secrets.
In 2017, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, an exhibition was organized in Venice at the exhibition space Le Stanze del Vetro, titled “Ettore Sottsass: il vetro,” curated by Luca Massimo. From the catalog conceived for the exhibition, it emerges the deep connection that Sottsass had with this material and the inspiration that the glass itself was able to evoke in him. Sottsass did not use glass from an industrial and strict perspective, nor for its qualities of transparency and elegance, but rather he exploited it to break away from conventional patterns, challenging the rules of design and creating a strong contrast.
“I tried to break away from the everyday object and attempted to create Glass with a capital ‘G.’ Certainly, it’s a risky attitude because I don’t want to be an artist, let alone a sculptor, but in the end, the objects I produce appear to be glass sculptures, yet they are not: they are a blend that is not well understood,” stated Sottsass, and indeed, that’s precisely the case. His seemingly less functional vases resemble totems, primordial forms, and carry strong symbolism. In general, Ettore Sottsass’s design had the ability to disrupt the norms of everyday life, “violently imposing new uses and forcing a reinvention of actions and gestures in daily behavior; Ettore Sottsass’s objects overturn the lives of those who had given up on choosing and thinking,” as noted by art critic Francesca Alinovi.