Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Hippie Modernism, Italian Style: Ettore Sottsass at 100

Ettore Sottsass, 1974. © Photo Bruno Gecchelin, 1974 by SIAE 2017.

How do you make Ettore Sottsass’s bed?

That was the question facing curator Christian Larsen, who placed Sottsass’s 1992 couch, with a scrolling pearwood footboard and a headboard textured like a high block wall, at the end of the new Met Breuer retrospective of the Italian architect’s work, “Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical.” Should he play up the fairytale aspect of sleeping in a castle with a white fur counterpane? Or go with something more monkish?

In the end, the answer became clear: you make it “very plainly.” White sheets and a single pillow. The ascetic as king.

The question of bedclothes is not trivial to understanding the work of Sottsass, who would have been 100 this year (he died a decade ago, in 2007). Best known as the ringleader of Memphis, the short-lived and wildly patterned design collective that defines 1980s style, Sottsass was perpetually tweaking the nose of modernism while embracing its machines, its manufacturers, and even its colors.