Milan’s design museum, Triennale, embarked on a technicolour trip, showcasing unforgettable designs from the Memphis Milano movement. The dynamic collection combined the most radical forms and vibrant colour palettes, archetypal of the Memphis aesthetic, with over 200 exhibited works, spanning furniture, lighting, textiles and ceramics, produced between 1981 and 1986

Img: Delfino Sisto Legnani & Alessandro Saletta

Against the midnight blue backdrop of the Curva Gallery, work from the movement’s founding members and revolutionary designers, including Ettore Sottsass, Nathalie Du Pasquier and George J. Sowden, were accompanied with a soundtrack by techno producer, Seth Troxler, evoking a club-like atmosphere within the gallery walls.

Img: Delfino Sisto Legnani & Alessandro Saletta

“Memphis does not deny functional utopia, but it looks at functionality with a wider vision, more as an anthropologist than as a marketing specialist. Function therefore not only in respecting ergonomic norms or profitability, but also in respecting a vision of public necessity, a historic push.”

Barbara Radice, Design critic and founding member of the Memphis Group, 1981
Ginza Cabinet by Masanori Umeda, 1982

Dublin Sofa by Marco Zanini, 1981

Beyond Commercialism

Acting as neither a homage nor a historical review, the objective of the exhibition was to highlight the cultural possibilities of design, going beyond the purely commercial. Memphis was born as a laboratory for the development of ideas. In 1981 a group of friends gathered in Sottsass’ Milan apartment, the new generation of designers, writers, and artists set out to turn the austerity of Modernism on its head with expressive silhouettes and radical colour schemes.

Gritti by Andrea Branzi, 1981

As a reaction to the banality of utilitarian objects, the group exhibited 55 designs as part of a collaborative show later that year in Milan’s Design Gallery. The ground-breaking exhibition, entitled “Memphis”, showcased furniture, lighting and ceramics by the collective of designers, shaking up the world of Italian Industrial design. The movement rapidly became a cultural phenomenon, subsequently influencing all aspects of visual culture, from fashion to interiors and architecture.

First Chair by Michele De Lucchi, 1983

“The fact is that we are no longer scared: We no longer fear what the past delivers, nor do we fear what the more aggressive future holds.”

Ettore Sottsass, 1981

Img: Delfino Sisto Legnani & Alessandro Saletta

All other images: Triennale Milano

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