This week in New York City, a chance to ogle pieces from Italian designer and Memphis maestro Ettore Sottsass's personal collection, including early prototypes that predate his most influential designs.
A 1966 issue of Domus features an interiors story on Italian designer Ettore Sottsass's apartment on via Manzoni in Milan that he shared with his first wife, literary agent Fernanda Pivano. The items included in the Christie's private sale are from Pivano's estate and comprise the earlier years of Sottsass's lengthy and influential career.
Sottsass's red Y28 vase, circa 1969, is part of a series of ceramic vessels he described as "Aztec sculpture and jazz-age radio receivers."
The sale, which is on view to the public through December 20, encompasses furniture, ceramics, metalwork, textiles and jewelry, alongside artworks, drawings, collages and a complete series of the self-published artists’ and poets’ books. Shown here is Sottsass's sketchbook paired with some miniature product prototypes.
The sketchbook contains preliminary drawings for a line of furniture for Poltronova in 1964-1965. These sketches help establish the conceptual vocabulary that would define the Memphis two decades later; each elevation view looks more like a character or motif than typical furniture. "He's not just doing a little doodle," says Christie's specialist Simon Andrews. "He's already thinking about how a piece of furniture will be photographed and merchandised."
One of the pieces Sottsass designed for Poltronova in 1965 is the beech wood Califfo settee, which Pivano and Sottsass had in their apartment in a gray upholstery. The portrait of Marilyn Monroe was given to Sottsass by Andy Warhol and Warhol associate Gerard Malanga. According to Christie's specialist Simon Andrews, David Bowie was gifted with an identical colorway of the Marilyn print.
A very early (circa 1946) spatial maquette exhibits qualities of the Futurism influence on designer Ettore Sottsass. As Andrews explains, most of the sculptures and prototypes in the Christie's sale have never been seen by the public, so it's an opportunity for education—meaning the ideal buyers are museums.
Sottsass and Pivano made a habit of seeking out expressive travel jewelry, which they acquired on their extensive travels around the world. This enamel-on-copper pendant references a necklace from Papua New Guinea "in which stacked bamboo batons would indicate the wealth and status of the wearer."
A series of enamel-on-copper plates that Sottsass designed for Bucci in 1958. The ideographic motifs present in the series, including circles, grids, and parallel lines, perhaps invoke his recent exposure to contemporary American Abstract Expressionism (following a period in 1956, working with George Nelson in New York City).
Also on view are narrative art pieces from 1962, following his convalescence in Palo Alto, California, that Sottsass illustrated with a mix of collage, tempera, pastel, and watercolor. The Christie's sale exhibition is free and open to the public through this Friday, December 20, 2013.