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Carlton Room Divider, 1981
Ettore Sottsass, Jr.
(Italian, b. 1917)
Produced by Memphis
(Milan, Italy)
Wood and plastic laminate
Centennial Gift of Robert and Dorothy Palay M1988.118

I hope that Memphis will finish as soon as possible and we will start with something else.

  —Ettore Sottsass, 1986

Italian designer Ettore Sottsass was a founding member of the design company called Memphis. The company’s name is derived from an evening in 1979 when he and a group of collaborators came up with new ideas to jolt the design world while listening to Bob Dylan’s album Memphis Blues Again. The group’s goal was to blur the lines between high art and popular culture by using bright colors, bold patterns, unconventional materials, and exaggerated shapes. Like the Carlton Room Divider seen here, Memphis products were visually engaging and even somewhat cartoonish. For about five years, Memphis was extremely popular and challenged traditional ideas of “good taste” worldwide. By 1986, Sottsass had left the group to continue working on other projects in architecture and design. Unlike the earliest designers featured in this exhibition like Thomas Chippendale and William Kent who championed a single style, Sottsass has spent his career working in many different modes. He does not set out to create a particular “look” but, rather, to make a point. His tactic of using furniture to comment on the state of design is now seen as an early step in the Post-Modern movement, which continues to influence furniture styles today.