Let’s talk about Alessandro Mendini; a man of postmodernism, a shining beacon of the Radical Design movement and Italian avant-garde. He helped to define radical Italian design, first through his collaborations with Alchimia and Archizoom then with his iconic pieces – from the Proust armchair to the Anna corkscrew – and finally with his enduring vision of a soulful approach to design.
Mendini’s work is characterised by his distinctive aesthetic; a clever, witty hybrid of art and design theory. He is sophisticatedly pop with his typically tribal motifs and patterned work which renovated the world of Italian design. Along with fellow design bad asses Andrea Branzi and Ettore Sottsass, Mendini’s presence in the Radical period and the experimental design program Global Tools pushed a shift within the 70’s Italian avant-garde. He went on to pioneer the postmodern period in the 80’s, bringing heart back to objects and design that had been eclipsed by over-commercialism and functionalism.
Mendini, who graduated from the Politecnico di Milano in 1959 with a degree in architecture, was much more than a designer. He was a thinker and a provocateur.
Mendini was the provocateur and iconoclast, generating strong images that sent up ‘good design’ and using his position as editor of design magazines to challenge industry’s inflexible stance based on a rational and pseudo-scientific approach to design”AD magazine 1998
In fact, Mendini rewrote those narratives through both his words and his work. As a young, radical designer, he flirted with Archizoom and Alchimia (the Proust armchair was part of an Alchimia exhibition in 1978). As a thinker, he took on the role of editor for magazines including Domus (he also co-founded Domus Academy).
As a designer, he set the scene ablaze: his first chair was Lassù, which he unveiled in 1974 by setting fire to it in a field
Mendini’s buildings were no less dramatic. In 1989, with his brother Francesco, he opened Atelier Mendini in Milan. The duo perhaps became best known for the canary-yellow tower of the Groninger Museum campus in the Netherlands (1994), a collaboration with Philippe Starck, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Michele de Lucchi. Through this genre of architecture, “we want to give feelings”
“The arid, brief and swift path so far pursued by our objects of the industrial age has failed to measure up to the poetic beauty of ancient things, of instruments for anthropological rites, to that slow epochal transformation completed in all its length by mankind. Design must be the soul expressed through material, a good and not aggressive soul, a soul that respects the poverty of so many men and peoples. And the gradient of poverty, the ethical specific sight present in an object, are the elements that guide its selection, that accredit certain objects and not others to enter with dignity into the forthcoming millennium.”