Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007) was a grandee of late 20th century Italian design. Best known as the founder of the early 1980s Memphis collective, he also designed iconic electronic products for Olivetti, as well as beautiful glass and ceramics.
Wherever he went, Ettore Sottsass carried a camera to photograph anything that caught his eye. Doors, temples, kitchens, billboards: nothing escaped him. This was a man who took 1,780 photographs on a twelve day trip to South America, who toyed with publishing a book consisting of pictures of walls and for years photographed every hotel room in which he had slept with a woman.
Ettore Sottsass devoted his life and work to dismantling the past in his various roles as artist, architect, industrial designer, glass maker, publisher, theoretician and ceramicist. The past to him was the rationalist doctrine of his father, Ettore Sottsass Sr., a prominent Italian architect. Fond though he was of his parents, Ettore Jr. favoured a different approach. "When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism," he once said. "It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting."
Born in Innsbruck in his mother’s native Austria in 1917, Ettore Jr. was marked out as an architect from an early age. No sooner had he graduated than he was called up into the Italian army only to spend most of World War II in a Yugoslavian concentration camp.
After the war, he worked on housing projects with his father before moving to Milan in 1946 to curate a craft exhibition at the Triennale.
For the next decade, Sottsass continued to curate as well as pursuing his passion for painting, writing for Domus, the art and architectural magazine, designing stage sets and founding a practice as an architect and industrial designer.
By the late 1970s, Sottsass was working with Studio Alchymia, a group of avant garde furniture designers, on an exhibition at the 1978 Milan Furniture Fair. Two years later, Sottsass, then in his 60s, split with Mendini to form a new collective, Memphis, with Branzi and other 20-something collaborators including Michele De Lucchi, George Sowden, Matteo Thun and Nathalie du Pasquier.
Memphis embodied the themes with which Sottsass had been experimenting since his mid-1960s 'superboxes': bright colours, kitsch suburban motifs and cheap materials like plastic laminates.
But this time they captured the attention of the mass media as well as the design cognoscenti, and Memphis (named after a Bob Dylan song) was billed as the future of design. For the young designers of the era, it was an intellectual lightning rod which liberated them from the dry rationalism they had been taught at college and enabled them to adopt a more fluid, conceptual approach to design.
Revered in Italy as a doyen of late 20th century design, Ettore Sottsass is cited as a role model by young foreign designers, for the breadth - as well as the quality - of his work.
Source: Design Museum London
More than 90 years ago, in 1921, Paolo Venini, a Milanese lawyer, and Giacomo Cappellin, a Venetian antique dealer, founded Cappellin Venini & C.
The painter Vittorio Zecchin was then artistic director and laid the basis on which the company is still founded today: reinterpretation of traditional schemes, openness towards new artistic trends and high manufacturing skills. He was able to reach all of this thanks to the glass masters of Murano island.
Unfortunately, after a few years the company was split in two. The company Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & C. was therefore founded, with Napoleone Martinuzzi as artistic director. He was one of the most important and influential people in the whole artistic world of glass.
During the first years Martinuzzi followed his predecessor’s guidelines, and this is why their works are hard to tell apart. The first signs of a change could be seen during the exhibition in Monza in 1927 where Venini exhibited pieces with different decorative elements such as coloured glass filaments. The following year Martinuzzi brought innovation into the glass world with the "pulegoso" glass. It is characterised by thousands of air bubbles which make it look opaque.
He was able to create majestic works thanks to his passion and talent for sculpture. Among these we find the great fountain for the Quadriennale in Rome and Josephine Baker’s famous statue.
Paolo Venini started to play an important role, as he had learnt a lot about glass. Still, he preferred to somebody else to be Artistic Director, such as Tommaso Buzzi, Napoleone Martinuzzi's successor. Meanwhile, some of the most important artists started to work with Venini. Among them were Carlo Scarpa and Gio Ponti.
In 1940 Carlo Scarpa and Paolo Venini presented some new techniques, such as Battuti, Tessuti, Granulari and Murrine. At the Biennale in Venice and the Triennale in Milan.
During World War II the company did not lose its grip. Indeed, during the Biennale in 1942, Venini had the only exhibition which contained innovative shapes and colours.
Immediately after World War II the situation was very complicated and all the companies in Murano didn’t know whether to produce new designs or concentrate the production on classical shapes.
Venini’s answer to the market came in 1948 during the Venice Biennale, where the firm launched some new works by a young artist from Padua: Fulvio Bianconi.
The set piece of his collection were the twelve characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. Three years later Venini launched, still with Bianconi, some new collections employing the "pezzati", "fasce" and "inclusion", something really particular which will leave an important mark in Venini’s history and in the island of Murano.
From that moment on, a lot of famous architects, designers and artists wanted to work with Venini: Eugene Barman, Ken Scott, Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressuti and Rogers.
Paolo Venini died on July 22nd, 1959 in Venice. His son-in-law, Ludovico Diaz De Santillan, who was working with him since a few years, became the new CEO of the company. During those years Venini collaborated with Tobia Scarpa (son of Carlo), Toni Zuccheri and Tapio Wirkkala.
In 1972 a fire broke out in the factory and many samples and prototypes, including original drawings, were destroyed. Only a few of them were saved.
In the following years Laura, Ludovico’s daughter, managed the company. During the 80’s Venini started to work with very famous artists and designers such as Owe Thorssen, Brigitta Karlsson and Tina Aufiero. In the mid 80’s Gardini and Ferruzzi bought out Venini, and they started to work with Alessandro Mendini, one of the most important architects worldwide. In the 90’s Ettore Sottssass began to collaborate with Venini as well.
Moreover, Venini worked with Gae Aulenti, Mario Bellini, Timo Sarpaneva and Fulvio Bianconi together with some rising artists such as Elena Cutolo, Giorgio Vigna, Emmanuel Babled, Rodolfo Dordoni, Monica Guggisberg and Philip Baldwin.
At the end of 2001 the group Italian Luxury Industries, ran by the Italian entrepreneurs Gabriella and Giancarlo Chimento and Giuliano and Guglielmo Tabacchi, bought out Venini, focusing on luxury and design in order to maintain the aim of Paolo Venini, started in 1921.
The company still attends the most important design events all around the world launching new collections and limited editions designed by Giorgio Vigna, Alessandro Mendini, Sandro Chia and Mimmo Rotella. In the following years the number of important collaborations increases including the one with Fernando and Humberto Campana, who, in 2005, designed a big installation of glass bells for Moss Gallery in New York. During the most recent years the company maintained its most important feature: cooperate with worldwide renowned designers, architects and artists such as Tadao Ando, Fabio Novembre, Luca Nichetto, Gaetano Pesce, Matteo Thun, Atelier OI, Studio Job, Emmanuel Babled, Harri Koskinen, Diego Chilò, Ronan and Erwan Bourroulec and Leonardo Ranucci.
In 2011 Venini celebrated its 90th anniversary with a travelling exhibition that involved the most important organization in the world such as the Glass Museum of Murano, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice, the Shanghai Museum of Glass and the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan.
Since 2012 the firm works with Fondazione Cini and Pentagram Stiftung on a ten-year project of single-author exhibitions on artists that worked for VENINI. All these works, including works, original drawings and images belonging to the company’s archives. The first exhibition, dedicated to Carlo Scarpa, called "CarloScarpa". Venini 1932-1947) was very successful in terms of public and critics and, in fall 2013, will be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with the title "Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company 1932-1947"