Ettore Sottsass, Jr. - Important Design London Wednesday, April 25, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sergio Cammilli, Florence
    Thence by descent

  • Exhibited

    ‘Menhir, Ziggurat, Stupas, Hydrants & Gas Pumps’, Galleria Sperone, Milan, April 1967
    Galleria La Bertesca, Genoa, June 1967
    'Ceramiche Sbagliate', Poltronova showroom, Agliana, September 1967

  • Literature

    Tommaso Trini, 'Ceramiche 67', Domus, no. 455, October 1967, p. 30 for a similar example
    Barabara Radice, Ettore Sottsass: A Critical Biography, London, 1993, p. 51
    Par Milco Carboni, Ettore Sottsass Jr. ’60-’70, exh. cat., FRAC Centre, Orléans, 2006, p. 104 for a drawing of the present model

  • Catalogue Essay

    The ‘Torri’, designed by Sottsass between 1964-1965, constituted an anomaly within the history of the architect’s ceramic oeuvre: their large scale, their polychrome appearance, and their placement on a white plinth were each unprecedented elements within his work.

    Sottsass explained that he designed the totems to be a monumental translation of the series of pills he was administered daily during his stay at an American hospital where he was admitted in 1962 with a near fatal Nephritis. The devastating illness, however, brought forth some wonderful atonement. From his hospital bed Sottsass dreamt up some of the most important projects of his career: the ‘Ceramiche delle Tenebre’, the ‘Ceramiche di Shiva’ and the exhibition ‘Menhir, Ziggurat, Stupas, Hydrants & Gas Pumps’, as well as the creation of the magazine ‘Room East 128. Chronicle’, introduced the same year.

    In the first issue of ‘Room East 128’, Sottsass referred to himself as ‘King of a Cortisone’, publishing sketches in which he vertically stacked the brightly coloured pills that he had to swallow each day (Cortisone, Phenobarbital, Librium, Potassium Chloride etc.), suspending them over a glass and titling the drawing ‘TOTEM, detto PALO ALTO’. Upon his return to Milan, healed and grateful, he translated the drawing of those pills to large stackable cylinders, turned on the wheel, white or hand painted with bright colours reminiscent of road signs.

    Later on he would write: ‘I have made mountains of clay, impossible to realise, impossible to move, to assemble, to use and pay for’.

    Is this not a wonderful definition of the artist’s work?

    Fulvio Ferrari

    The present totem features a painted wooden base with seven cylinders and two discs in earthenware, thrown and turned with coloured glazes against a white background. The work consists of four stackable parts, as some of the elements have been fused together during the manufacturing process: a mechanism known as ‘incastro a battente’ united the justaposed cylinders following their glazing and second firing. The structure was subsequently further strengthened by an internal metal pole.

    This totem belongs to the series of ‘big coloured columns, more than two meters tall’, which Sottsass conceived between 1964 and 1966 (E. Sottsass, Scritto di notte, Milan, 2017, p. 233). The work was manufactured by Bitossi & Sons under the expert supervision of the company’s artistic director Aldo Londi. Sottass’ designs were delivered to Londi by his young apprentice Clinio Trini Castelli, who after the process of throwing, turning, and biscuit firing, personally took part in the glazing and definition of its graphic patterns.

    The study of the ever changing meaning and the dimensions of an object was a focal point for Sottsass; a few examples that come to mind are ‘things in the gardens and totem’ designed in 1965 and the stratified ceramics produced from 1961‐1962 (S. Riva, Ettore Sottsass: Catalogo ragionato dell’archivio 1922‐1978, Milan, 2017, p. 277). Sottsass’ large ceramics works, which he considered to be ‘deliberately and irremediably wrong’, and not meant to be sold and used, were displayed in the exhibition ‘Menhir, Ziggurat, Stupas, Hydrants & Gas Pumps’ at Galleria Sperone, Milan in April 1967. The works were exhibited later that year in June at La Bertesca Gallery, Genoa, and then in September at Poltronova’s showroom in Adigliana with the title ‘Wrong Ceramics’.

    The columns were displayed in groups of two to four in the room ‘creating strange architecture’ (E. Sottsass, Scritto di notte, Milan, 2017, p. 233) proving that the ceramics could occupy the surrounding space and determine its meaning (E. Sottsass, L’industrial designer nel settore ceramico, in Atti del X Convegno Nazionale della ceramic, Vicenza, 1959, p .38); the objects therefore became the link between the spatial and sensorial experience of the viewer (B. Radice, Ettore Sottsass, Milan, 1993, p.49) with their primary function acting as an energy catalyst (F. Picchi, Design: il cammino verso Memphis, London, 2014, pp. 12‐13).

    Sottsass’ ‘poor large magnificent ceramics’ testify his strength of will and ‘refusal to follow any conventional path’ (F. Pivano, Ceramiche sbagliate, exh. cat., Poltronova, Agliana, 1967, n.p.) and to take the viewer on ‘a formal adventure on the road charged with energy and symbols’ (T. Trini, ‘Ettore Sottsass, Le ceramiche 67’, Domus, no. 455, October 1967, p. 112). These sculptures gained particular success among his friends who ‘enjoyed spending time in a room full of ceramics, which resembled an odd garden full of giant flowers’ (from a letter written by Sottsass to Aldo Londi, 31 May 1967, pubished in F. Ferrari, Ettore Sottsass. Tutta la ceramica, Turin, 1996, p. 22).

    Marina Vignozzi Paszkowski


Unique totem, no. 18

Glazed earthenware, painted oak.
234.5 cm (92 3/8 in.) high
Produced by Bitossi, Montelupo Fiorentino, for the exhibition ‘Menhir, Ziggurat, Stupas, Hydrants & Gas Pumps’, April 1967, Galleria Sperone, Milan, Italy. Comprised of seven cylinders and two discs. Interior of each incised 6 I. Five cylinders with label printed, ettore sottsass 1966/ CERAMIC/PIECE/to mount from/below starting/with piece no. 1, and each signed 10/1-5 respectively. Base marked SOTTSASS 66 and label printed 18.

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £187,500

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Important Design

London Auction 26 April 2018