Memphis, pop culture and the fighting with «good taste»

maltsevhistory, Без рубрики

The projects of the group Memphis can be described as a synthesis of historical allusions and rock ‘ n ‘ roll. Memphis design aesthetic embodies the 1980s in so many ways: colourful and kitsch. In recent years it’s come back into fashion in a big way.

The Memphis Group was a collaborative design group founded by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and named after a Bob Dylan song «Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again». During the 1980s, Memphis attracted many supporters and strongly influenced fashion and pop culture. In 1988, the group broke up, but their furniture and interior items have become popular collectibles.

Memphis was fighting with too good taste and functional traditions in the 70s. Through their design traced fun game, freedom, anarchy without rules. Now the form does not follow the function as it was before. In a passionate combination of materials, colors, and shapes, Memphis saw the potential to reach a new stage of development. This freedom of action is so inspiring to a new generation of designers that the Wall Street Journal announced a surge of «neo-Memphis» — a new wave of this extravagant style.


2016 was a year seemingly cursed by high-profile celebrity deaths, including the inimitable David Bowie – who, it transpired, was a hugely prolific collector of Memphis Group artefacts, having accumulated over 400 of them since meeting Sottsass during his heyday in the 1980s. Bowie’s extensive art collection was auctioned at Sotheby’s over three days, raising £1.4 million.


Italian furniture and homewares brand Kartell staged its own tribute to the Memphis design aesthetic in 2015 by finally releasing a range of products that Ettore Sottsass – then in his late 80s – had originally designed for it in 2004. “A Tribute to Memphis” collection included the re-release of the famous items of Urquiola Patricia, Philippe Starck, Piero Lissoni, etc. All these furniture items were in bright new upholstery authorship Ettore Sottsass and Natalie du Pasquier. According to the creators themselves, the new upholstery is a performance in pop art style.


British artist Camille Walala has painted the facade of a building in Brooklyn’s Industry City with geometric patterns and bold colours, completed to coincide with this month’s NYCxDesign festival. The 40-meter-high mural covers the front of a seven-story building, which forms part of a former industrial complex that now houses creative workspaces, production facilities, and event venues.

Nicola L. — unknown icon of pop art


Nicola L., the feminist Pop pioneer known for her witty anthropomorphic sculptures and a career that straddled art, performance and design

L.’s work often foregrounded the female form to humorous yet socially captious ends. She termed much of her sculpture “functional art,” making furniture-like objects that are at once silly, critical and useful. Consider her numerous La Femme Commode (1969-2014) pieces, lacquered wood cabinets in the shape of women in which their eyes, mouths, breasts, and bellies become drawers. It is through this playful approach that renders the female body an interactive object while providing an incisive critique of objectifying women that L. defined her career.

In new York, she joined artists who playfully approached the concept of pop art and performance in the 1960s and 1970s. But only now her art is interested in serious institutions on the wave of interest in “female” art.

The nature of her work shows a very diverse form of work, among which stands a common theme: the human body. Nicola loved to take it apart and recreate it, giving it a new function: the function of the object. Among her works you can see a sofa in the form of a giant leg (White Foot Sofa, 1968), a lamp in the shape of lips and eyes (the Lips Lamp and the Eye Lamp, 1969), or a chest of drawers and a table with feminine curves (La Femme commode, 1969-2014 and La Femme Coffee Table, 1969/2015). At the crossroads between fine arts, sculpture and art objects these works are very new for that time. They allowed her to work outside established artistic codes and playfully avoid gender stereotypes.