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Ettore Sottsass

1917 Innsbruck
2007 Mailand

The quirky Italian designer and architect Ettore Sottsass is a titan of late 20th-century design, looking back on a career that was firmly established by the late 1950s. Born in Innsbruck, Austria (his mother came from there) in 1917, Ettore Sottsass was the son of an Italian architect. In 1929 the family moved to Turin. From 1935 until 1939 Ettore Sottsass studied architecture at Turin Polytechnic and worked in his father's practice after the war.
In 1947 Ettore Sottsass opened a practice of his own in Milan, "The Studio". In 1956 Ettore Sottsass worked for a while in George Nelson's practice in New York, an important encounter for Sottsass. In 1957 Ettore Sottsass became art director at Poltronova, where he designed lighting and furniture, such as the 1970 "Mobili Grigi". From 1958 Ettore Sottsass was also a design consultant at Olivetti, where he designed a number of typewriters and calculators, including the 1959, the "Elea 9003" calculator. In 1969 Ettore Sottsass collaborated with Perry King on designing the bright red "Valentine" portable typewriter. Its back is also the lid of the plastic housing in which it is carried.
In the 1960s, Ettore Sottsass began to design lines in ceramics, inspired by a trip he took to India, as some of the names indicate: "Ceramiche delle Tenebre" (1963) and the "Offerta a Shiva" (1964), "Yantra", and "Tantra" editions (1968). In 1972 Ettore Sottsass showed work at the key exhibition "Italy: A New Domestic Landscape" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the 1970s, Ettore Sottsass was an adherent of the radical design movement and, in 1973, was a co-founder of "Global Tools"; in 1976 Sottsass was, along with Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, Michele De Lucchi, and others, a member of Studio Alchimia.
In order to have even more freedom in which to develop his boundless creativity, Ettore Sottsass, by then sixty-four years old, joined considerably younger design colleagues, including Michele De Lucchi, Marco Zannini, Barbara Radice, Aldo Cibic, and Matteo Thun to found the "Memphis group". The first Memphis exhibition opened in September 1981 at the Milan gallery Arc '74. Memphis formulated a new aesthetic of design, which disregarded the functional, rational, and even ergonomic aspects of design. Memphis designs are unconventional to say the least, creative, playful, brightly colored and often entirely non-utilitarian. And Memphis sparked off a revolution in lifestyle design with repercussions for the entire international design scene. Memphis popularized design. When the Memphis mania began to cool down, Ettore Sottsass simply disbanded Memphis in 1988.
Ettore Sottsass died on December 31, 2007 in Milan.

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