20 years of designboom: in our video footage from 2008, enzo mari defines the moral position of our profession to show its limits and dangers as only a great could do, with sublime humility. he appears as a provocative intellectual — an artist who cannot accept the exploitation of art, apparently with a crusty character, but in reality profoundly human and nice.
video interview before enzo mari opens the exhibition l’arte del design at GAM turin.
all images are taken by designboom at the exhibition ‘enzo mari: l’arte del design’, in the gallery of modern and contemporary art (GAM) in turin, italy. birgit lohmann, designboom’s editor-in-chief, collaborated with enzo mari on several design projects (for over 20 years), and in these pictures helped mari build up the show — which was on from october 29, 2008 to january 6, 2009.
running after mari, a day before his exhibition opened, in the front his art works of the early fifties
enzo mari represents an almost unique case of constructive criticism within the design system. he has always paid particular attention to the lesser-known mechanisms of the market and of production, to the rediscovery of craftsmanship, believed to be lost and instead reborn in different ways in industrial production, even the most sophisticated.
when asked, how he chose the title for his exhibition (l’arte del design – the art of design), he said: ‘today it is very difficult for a ‘design object’ to be produced in large quantities for a broad market demand. objects of this type almost always fail the commercial objective because the marketing is similar to that of an art gallery. today entrepreneurs ask for objects that have the total characteristics of an art object. therefore to be produced in a few specimens. this also involves the ignorance of the designers, not knowing what art is.’
’44 evaluations’ / 44 evaluations (that ricompose would create the sickle and hammer motif), 1977
‘art is desperation, it means a life totally dedicated to developing hypotheses, tests, attempts, which cannot be resolved in terms of project making,‘ is one of the statements enzo mari often uses.
‘l’art pompier… when all ideologies and passions collapse (which collapse due to fascism and nazism) a sort of object of applied art appears. today, the objects that are proposed as ‘artistic objects’ are often only re-workings of the decorative objects of the art deco’ — enzo mari.
a view into the show
‘I have chosen the title ’the art of design’ because design certainly belongs to the minor arts, but some masterpieces have characteristics, comparable – not formally but ideologically – to those of art. what is design? perhaps there is an art of design? one that is his own and not a mere imitation of the plastic and pictorial arts, of music …?’ — enzo mari.
’44 evaluations’ sculptures
‘I do not look at the work of some masters as something to be imitated formally but to understand how someone manages to open a window on infinity.’ — enzo mari.
’44 evaluations’ / 44 sculptures recomposed into the sickle and hammer motif, 1977
with this work, mari wanted to show that while every artist works according to his ideal, the resulting works often are silent fragments and appreciated perhaps for this very reason. they are actually pieces of a puzzle — when reassembled, they have a certain meaning. the single object is sellable if the ideology does not show through…
a view into the exhibition
‘allegoria della dignità’ / allegory of dignity, 1988
‘all I do is reject everything that I don’t like,’ mari often told me. in his installation ‘allegory of dignity’, we see a long mirror with a single prie-dieu in front. the message implies the harsh statement of a call to dignity, urging a practice of answering first and foremost to oneself — which confirms the rejection of delegation. ‘the dignity of work is at the center of what I do,’ mari said.
a view into the exhibition
‘proposta per un’autoprogettazione’, 1973
understanding through experiment: mari made 19 small models and an instruction booklet so that everyone could have the essential construction data. with ‘proposta per un’autoprogettazione’ he proposed an anti-industrial design by using only rough planks and nails. it is not easy to translate the italian word ‘autoprogettazione’ into english. literally it means auto = self and progettazione = design. but the term ‘self-design’ is misleading, since the word ‘design’ to the general public now signifies a series of superficially decorative objects. this project did not refer to the ‘do-it-yourself’ leisure time, but was intended to stimulate everybody to practice a ‘thinking with your hands’ method. it is only important because of its educational value. an elementary technique to teach anyone to look at present production with a critical eye. all later ‘produced’ 1:1 scale furniture items (by artek etc) — built ready to be bought 0- lacked the sincerity behind the original project.
they have always been my favorites: ‘sof-sof’ chair, 1971, ‘box’ chair, of the same year and ‘delfina’ chair , 1986
‘the duration of the form’ is enzo mari’s basic claim, and the case of the chair is of interest because it represents one of the most persistent market demands. ever new, ever different, suited to new trends in taste… but mari stubbornly responds with basically the same project. the final form is the result of testing and comparison of hundreds of models.
‘my goal has always been to rasp away (‘repeatedly removing’ is the principle, to paraphrase michelangelo) and to not let the object grow old.’ — enzo mari.
‘allegoria della morte’ / allegory of death, 1987
in the ‘allegory of death’, three tombs bear witness to the death of ideologies. a triptych, three symbols for religious culture/lay devotion/emptiness. two neat lines of toy automobiles found a parking spot. today everyone knows the mechanisms of the destruction of the planet, nonetheless, totally imperturbably, they are jointly responsible.
installation ‘quale cultura’/which culture, 1997-98
an allegory indicating mari’s cultural references (wood structure, sand, 15 photographic reproductions on aluminium)
‘la flagellazione’ / the flagellation by piero della francesca, william morris, brancusi studio, edison’s light bulb, the tower of babel, stonehenge,…
‘arbeiten in berlin’/ working in berlin — for over 6 years, enzo mari and I were involved in the art direction of the königliche porzellan manufaktur KPM in berlin. in the exhibition, several works by mari for KPM were shown. in the background the slender vases (from 1994) and the ‘berlin’ table service (1996).
the exhibition catalogue with one of enzo mari’s vases for KPM, ‘per forza di levare’ /by force of removing, also known as ‘broken vase’
enzo mari was born in novara in 1932. he attended the brera academy of fine arts and dedicated himself to exploring the psychology of vision and design methods. he is an impassioned humanist with an unusual ability to combine idea and form, with particular attention to social and political problems. mari is radical in his ideas and subtle in his designs. a non-conformist that tries to introduce a certain amount of utopia in every of his projects.
from the catalogue: ‘studio per l’anniversario’***, 1954 and the making of the KPM vase, obtained by the blow of the hammer on the china cylinder, 1993-94
***’l’anniversario’ is a reference to a cross painted in a fresco by giotto; its structure in the foreground had profoundly struck him.
enzo mari with grandchild, photo that was part of the exhibition
‘one day – 27,740 days’, 2008
(enzo mari with grandchild)
the chronological exhibition with 250 pieces has been curated by mari’s office itself, which deliberately did not create separate sections to distinguish the artistic production from the creation of design objects for companies. no clear distinction has been made between the works created ‘by implicit request’ (which follow a personal and interior call and to which mari responds through works that have become part of the history of contemporary art), and the works carried out ‘on explicit request’ (of companies that have entrusted mari with design projects that have introduced a revolutionary approach to the field).
inside ‘modulo n. 856,’ 1967
a machine for provocation, the ‘modulo n. 856,’ staged towards the end of the exhibition, stimulates the visitor to enter, but he will find an empty box with a mirror — to only see his own tired image. an experience of void and absence!
watch our unreleased videos with vico magistretti, ettore sottsass, milton glaser and achille castiglioni from 2000 and stay tuned as we continue to deliver you a host of treasures on tape: from the designboom archives.
as we celebrate this landmark anniversary marking 20 years of designboom, we present to you: treasures on tape, from the designboom archives — a series of ‘retro’ videos filmed by designboom in its first years. with japanese mini-dvd technique we conducted video interviews and filmed live discussions with the world’s leading protagonists in the creative fields, where they reflect on the state of contemporary society, the evolution of their work over the years, and their forecast for the future.
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