An exceptional treat is awaiting the lovers of architecture, art and original design. The Museum of Architecture in Wrocław, the only museum of architecture in Poland, in collaboration with the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design and curator Dorota Koziara have prepared a retrospective exhibition that sums up the almost five decades long design activity of Alessandro Mendini. The exhibition will inaugurate the visual arts program of the European Capital of Culture 2016.
Mendini, born in 1931 in Milan, is one of the most famous designers in the world. He got the architecture degree at Politecnico di Milano. Mendini belongs to the elite group of all-round artists who achieved success in every field of their activity and he is a precursor of the multidimensional thinking about design. His activity in theory and criticism has had a profound impact on later generations of designers around the world. Between 1970 and 1976 Mendini was the editor-in-chief of the Casabella magazine and, shortly after, he initiated the creation of another magazine - Modo. In the 1980s he was the director of the most renowned and the most important magazine on architecture and design, Domus.
"Eclecticism is my working tool. [...] My design method is about incorporating in every project as many styles, forms, and referents as possible [...]. I am not only interested in design itself but in the presentation of problems posed by design and art." *
The international recognition and renown came to Mendini right after he started working in design. It was the result of his identification with the artists fed up with the modernist values of order, simplicity, functionality, and transparency who decided to turn things around and headed towards the emotional and suggestive influence of forms as well as forms’ ambiguities, questioning the dictatorship of “good design”, introducing kitsch and banality.
Such spectacular revolutions have rarely happened in the world of design. The 1960s brought revolts, it was the time when, in the UK and Italy, the joyous march of postmodernism began, elevated by pop-art, fascination with suburban culture, and changes in social norms. Mendini was one of the march’s active creators and participants. A milestone in the development of the 20th century design was marked by the emergence of groups such as the British Archigram or the Italian Superstudio or Archizoom. These groups used the variety of colors, chaos and, to apply the father of postmodern architecture – Robert Venturi’s terms, “messy vitality” and “difficult unity”. This very movement that reacted against the modernist idea of “good design”, sometimes referred to as “anti-design” or “banal design” has been continued by the Studio Alchimia established in 1976 (Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and others) and the international Memphis group (established in 1981; Charles Jencks, Robert Venturi, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki).
The 1980s were dominated by Mendini, it was the time when his pastiches of well-known, classical furniture were created. The Alchimia’s projects that drew on various artistic traditions (re-design) had the character of a manifesto and a provocation. A provocation on the grounds of which Mendini started his international career. In 1978, under his name, Mendini presented the already mentioned "Universale" chair designed by Joe Colombo, redesigned by Mendini with a marbled surface texture, as well as Gio Ponti’s “Superleggera” chair with the added little flags. By doing this, Mendini comments on the fact that everything has already been designed and we can only use the products that have already been invented. Besides, he wants to draw our attention to the decorative elements and their capability of expressing the value and meaning of a project. It is the essence of the “banal design” and, at the same time, the antithesis of the accelerating mass production of the industrial era. By contesting action, being postulative and initially existing on the boundaries of the main trend, in effect, it gains acceptance and designed objects become works of art.
"The truth is I use the same building blocks all the time and it does not matter whether I design architecture, everyday objects, or an individual work of art because I always reach for my own alphabet and say precisely what I want to say." **
Large part of Mendini’s alphabet can be seen at the already open exhibition in Wrocław. The Atelier Mendini, practice the artist runs together with his brother Francesco, provided the exhibition with a series of unique objects: the famous “Poltrona Proust” armchair in its different variants and furniture from the above-mentioned “Re-design” series from the 1980s. The exhibition also presents public space sculptures: lamps, vases, and seats produced by the Schoenhuber Franchi and the Slide companies. The four-meter-tall Bomarzo sculptures produced by the Schoenhuber Franchi will be exhibited in the spaces of the Center of Innovation and the Center of Utility Arts while the Here, There, Glace objects produced by the Slide company will be shown in the Museum of Architecture
In Wrocław it will also be possible to admire a collection of works from the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris that owns such installations as Petite Cathedrale, Grande Poltrona di Proust, and the Cavaliere sculpture. The Groninger Museum in the Netherlands (in possession of the largest collection of Mendini’s works), designed by the Atelier Mendini, among its exhibits will show Tete Gèante as well as the collection of laminates designed by Mendini for the Abet Laminati company – the collection that revolutionized the world of contemporary architecture. We will also see nine two-meter-tall golden mosaic sculptures, Mobili per Uomo, from the collection of the Italian Fondazione Bisazza - the contemporary art foundation created by one of the largest glass mosaic manufacturers in the world, Bisazza, for which Alessandro Mendini has been working as an art director for many years creating the color palettes of mosaics and collections. Mobile Venice from Cleto Munari’s private collection has arrived in Wrocław as well. In the Museum of Architecture it is possible to see a bunch of miniature objects made of bronze, from the Short Stories collection, as well as ceramic sculptures Colonne from the collection of Superego – two-meter-tall colorful objects with shapes resembling anthropomorphic forms. Also, the Museum of Architecture exhibits a series of architectural models realized in various places in the world such as the model of the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, Torre Paradiso in Japan, the Alessi Factory in Italy and many others
Additionally, the visitors will see almost 60 pictures of the already realized architectural projects. The original sketches of numerous projects connected with architecture, design, and other areas have found their way to Wrocław from Triennale in Milan - the most important Italian design museum. For a few years now, Triennale has been in possession of all the sketches made by Maestro Mendini.
Alessandro Mendini often works as an art director for numerous brands, for example Alessi, Bisazza, and Swatch. The effects of these co-operations can also be seen in Wrocław in the forms of the projects for companies which, thanks to Mendini, have been at the cutting edge of design.
"We look at objects, they look back at us."
At present we witness the great comeback of design that plays with forms, uses contrast and multidimensionality. We witness the creation of objects which, at first glance, seem nonfunctional and their structures do not directly relate to any specific name or usage. It does not take long to notice the rebellious nature of Postmodernism here! Hence, the exhibition is worth visiting, even more so because it is a tribute to the iconic person who has exerted a tremendous and long-lasting impact on the contemporary world of art.
Mendini’s play with conventions as well as his constructions full of wit and taste have been appreciated recently by the international jury. On December 1, 2014, Mendini was awarded Doctor Honoris Causa of the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design and, a few days later, on December 10, 2014, he received the European Prize for Architecture awarded by the European Center for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture.
The official opening of the MENDINI exhibition in the Academy’s Neon Gallery and the Museum of Architecture took place on December 2, 2014. The exhibition closes on March 15, 2015.
*The quotations are the translations of the Polish versions that come from the materials used in the exhibition.
**The translation of part of an interview Mendini gave to Wrocław Gazeta Wyborcza.
Images courtesy of the organizator. Photography Maciej Lulko.