The exhibition Memphis, 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance shows us the art that changed the world in the 1980s, led by an architect and a group of brave young designers.
If we carefully study the world of design, we will soon discover that there are times with unique creative force. One of them was decisive for us to understand the world today. The Memphis group not only brought new air to our lives, it also helped us to open minds and break down industrial barriers, something that, in general, artists are good at.
From February 6 to January 23, 2022, we will be able to enjoy an exhibition that teaches us about this peculiar and important cultural phenomenon. A phenomenon that was born in the winter of 1980 and took its first steps at the beginning of 1981, at the hands of some young designers united around the Italian architect Ettore Sottsass. This was the inspiration behind the Ero furniture, by Paolo Setti.
Memphis, 40 years of kitsch and elegance
The exhibition is called Memphis, 40 years of kitsch and elegance, although to be exact, its real title is Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance. It takes place at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery, one of the most important private art galleries in Europe, based in Germany, in the town of Weil am Rhein, near Basel. But, leaving aside what is exhibited there, for me the most remarkable thing is that the museum’s headquarters is a building designed by Frank Gehry in 1989. Although anyone would say that it was built just a few months ago.
Returning to Memphis, his first collection was presented at the Arc’74 gallery in Milan in September 1981. An exhibition that quickly attracted international media attention. In essence, the creators used bright colors and unusual patterns to make their works. Every piece of furniture seemed to be straight out of a comic book, with a look that popular culture was not used to. Therefore, to say that they caused a sensation is to fall short.
Discover the enriching world of Memphis
.In the exhibition we will be able to travel through time and see the creations, furniture, lamps, bowls, drawings, sketches and photographs of the enriching world of Memphis. Of course, the most desired pieces are those of the best known designers, starting with the forerunner of the movement Ettore Sottsass, and continuing with his contemporaries, Michele De Lucchi, Martine Bedin, Michael Graves, Barbara Radice, Peter Shire, Nathalie Du Pasquier and Shiro Kuramata.
If we place ourselves in those splendid, energetic and monotonous 80s, we can better glimpse what the arrival of a group of seasoned artists meant with the desire to erase the conventional from their lives, to sing a hymn to the banal, to break the taboos of aesthetically correct ones. Thus, in a society that was beginning to move towards the information age, objects appeared destined to be unique, to live alongside the viewer and not just be an instrument.
Karl Lagerfeld did not hesitate to decorate his house in Monte Carlo with these groundbreaking designs
But obviously, even they needed a godfather, an influential figure who would not only support them, but give them even more visibility. The person in charge of doing it was the late Karl Lagerfeld, who popularized his pieces by choosing them as furniture for his apartment in Monte Carlo in 1982. With this endorsement and its catchy name, inspired by the song Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, by Bob Dylan, your path to stardom was guaranteed.
The group Alchimia also came to their aid, presenting the characteristic laminated print of Memphis. They created storage items for the group, like the Beverly sideboard from 1981, and truly eye-catching pieces, like a chrome-plated tubular steel with a bent shape, a colored bulb and carved wood, or a snakeskin with laminate finishes, ranging from kitsch and elegant.
The exhibition shows the most iconic pieces of Memphis
Martine Bedin provides the exhibition with another iconic piece: the Super lamp. This is surrounded by many other ostentatious or simple, but fantastic designs, such as the table by Michele De Lucchis called Kristall, the First chair, which boasts spheres on its armrests, surrounding the person who sits with planets, the Riviera chair , also by the same artist, and in the same pastel hue that De Lucchis will use in Philips appliances.
Other featured designs in the exhibition include those by Nathalie Du Pasquier, who put Memphis ideas into practice in interior designs, specifically textile patterns. At the Vitra Museum we can see her patterns alongside the sketches of an American architect who joined the design party, an architect named Michael Graves, creator of the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort building in 1989 in Orlando.
Design history saved in a magnificent building designed by Frank Gehry
However, in 1987 the group disbanded without notice. You know what they say: «Good things don’t last long.» His creations, barely seven years old, changed the world of design forever. Currently there is no self-respecting art school where they are not studied. The exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum pays tribute to the history of the group and, above all, its intention to change the world of international design.
If you love art, this exhibition, which will be open to the public for a year, cannot go unnoticed. And if you also love the most contemporary architecture, a visit to the center is almost a must, not only because of the magnificent Gehry building, but also because of the cast of famous architects that Vitra has brought together on its Campus. Buildings by Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron, Nicholas Grimshaw, Álvaro Siza and SANAA, a whole cast. How to miss it!!