Ettore Sottsass, Jr. - Important Design London Wednesday, October 17, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Renzo Brugola, Lissone
    Thence by descent

  • Exhibited

    'La casa abitata', Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 6 March-25 April 1965

  • Literature

    'Ettore Sottsass jr.: una stanza da letto’, Domus, no. 426, May 1965, illustrated pp. 52-3, 55
    Fernanda Pivano, C'era una volta un beat. L'avventura degli anni '60, Milan, 1988, illustrated p. 102
    Hans Höger, Ettore Sottsass Jun. Designer, Artist, Architect, Tübingen, 1993, illustrated p. 86
    Milco Carboni, Ettore Sottsass Jr. ’60-’70, exh. cat., FRAC Centre, Orléans, 2006, illustrated pp. 88-89

  • Catalogue Essay

    Colour-Light Colour-Space

    The idea that the main embryos of expression are born from the qualities of different surfaces is illustrated by the ‘long and passionate exercise of Sottsass as a ceramist, meticulous calibrator of thicknesses, opacities and transparencies of colours’. (Santini, ‘Le pitture di Ettore Sottsass 1963-64’, Domus, no. 420, 1964, pp. 36-38). Within the specifics of this instance, the choice to use ceramic tiles for a panel represents a sort of suspension of his creative process: it is ceramic-painting-structure. Sottsass' research extends to the most disparate areas, whilst maintaining a uniform stylistic language. It is no coincidence that Sottsass spent many of his days with ironmongers, carpenters, glass blowers and ceramists, in a constant quest to understand ‘what could happen if the emptiness, the empty space, the solid idea of empty space were cut in pieces by the presence of lines, surfaces, any type of trajectories and matter, including the light inside the solid of emptiness’ (Sottsass, Scritto di notte, 2010, p. 130).

    His experimental studies of structure and colour help find solutions to the recurring issue of decoration: colour, light and symbols are not decorative elements, but also act as structure. ‘The light that enters a room doesn’t get lost in an empty space’, it is captured and modulated by the gloss and matt ceramic tiles. Colour becomes the main source of atmospheric coordination within an environment (Santini, ‘Introduzione a Sottsass’, Zodiac, 1963). Following this approach, Sottsass in his proposal for the Florentine exhibition ‘La casa abitata’, presents his idea of ‘habitability’ with an ‘invented and enclosed bedroom, designed to generate maximum tension, all of which is supported by a precious and highly calibrated balance between colour-light and colour-space’ (Masini 1965, pp. 50-51).

    The ‘Camera da letto’ (Bedroom) or ‘Stanza dell’amore’ (Room of Love), as it was originally called before it was censored by the Florentine Curia, is a habitable room, ‘it’s an environment controlled in every detail, but it is also a declaration of intentions’ to be diffused through the written introduction (from the Kama Sutra) and the accompanying photographs. (Carboni 2017, p.110). It is a conceptual guideline to encourage reflection by its users and others.

    For Sottsass, love, the idea of making love is ‘consciously the centre of life’ and, despite any judgments, he will continue ‘to design miserable bedrooms of a disgusting pink for young ladies, with pictures that look like sweets; a failed sexual symbol, among few rows of ceramics made in an attempt to bring inside the room, inside love, those things that we see in the sky, those lights that keep on changing as time passes; I will continue to create some miserable bedrooms and put perfumes and flowers and books and a table to make drawings to suggest another way to live, hoping that the way young people make love one day will win over all the hate and all the pain’ (La casa, 1965, p. 231).

    The Frieze, comprised of 35 tiles, with polychrome glaze, is presumably from Sottsass’ ‘Camera da letto’ (Bedroom), designed for ‘La casa abitata’, an exhibition held in Palazzo Strozzi, Florence in the spring of 1965. The present lot appears to be a portion of the frieze, installed around the room. The vertical sequel of the tiles (parallel bands and chromatic scales) create a dynamic composition punctuated by emblematic roundels and symbols: ‘large suns and moons (positioned) right at the top, which appeared to him as a metaphor of individual achievement and strange solar ghosts as a metaphor for the evolution of life’. These elements, following Sottsass’ trip to India, ‘became culturally rich symbols, filled with memory: the wheel of the life of Buddha, and the mandala…’ (Pivano, Lui (Sottsass) e gli ornamenti per le donne, 1964).

    Sottsass included these colourful forms and modules in many of his studies of paintings, carpets and panels for his interior furnishings, such as the redecoration of his apartment in Via Cappuccio, in the one of the two youngsters and in the interior for his friend Alfredo Gaio all between 1958 and 1959. Among this repertoire, we must include the frieze he designed for the atrium of the XII Triennale, Milan in 1959, his unrealised project for the house of Aldo Londi, and the present lot, which later hung in Renzo Brugola’s workshop (Pivano 1976, p. 102).
    Through painting, Sottsass gives ritual significance to his environments and objects. He uses ancient emblems and symbols to describe contemporary experiences whilst being confronted by the new language of Pop Art. Visual evocations, metaphors of life for a man seeking identity, symbols of his desperate desire to engage with mystery. This is the man who inhabits Sottsass’ architecture and here, the idea behind the conception of a sequence of ceramics reproducing the firmament with its suns, moons, horizons, pastures of death and a beautiful spring day.

    - Marina Vignozzi Paszkowski

    A ‘Fresco of Tiles’

    Florence, 1965. In the city universally recognised as the Italian capital of antiques dealers, Giovanni Michelucci, president of the ‘Biennale degli Interni di Oggi’, organises the exhibition ‘La Casa Abitata’. The catalogue outlines his ambitions: ‘to reunite the conflict between the new configuration of the world, life and the relationships between men, created by the emerging needs of the so called ‘mid cult’ (mass culture), and by the industrial and technological civilisation, from the dilation of known spatial dimensions which deface contemporary living and threaten an ever terrifying transformation of the future, together with the need for mankind to find at least one hope for continuity within its own dimension’.
    The exhibition program required each architect to design a fully-liveable room, fully equipped with towels in the bathrooms, pots in the kitchens, pyjamas in the wardrobes. The multi-faceted architect Ettore Sottsass Jr., who never ceased to surprise for his almost endless vernacular, was invited to participate, alongside Vico Magistretti, Achille Castiglioni, Angelo Mangiarotti, Vittorio Gregotti and others.

    His interior was called ‘Camera da letto’ and indeed comprised a bed, wardrobes, a sofa and side tables, bedside tables, columns and ceramics. It also contained an unusual and long ‘fresco of tiles’, which, as visual representation, brings us straight to what he will write about himself in his self-financed illustrated book (Super Cahier 1966) a year after the exhibition in which these ceramic elements were first shown.

    ‘Architect decorator, hypothetical colourist and potential builder of villas, private houses, places of idleness, pleasure and leisure, terrible designer of buildings and places for public assemblies, enemy of barracks, ministries, moralisation centres in general and similar, general lover of peace and smile, a man of little seriousness and reliability, respectful lover of death, has only built for friends, no collector nor museums have ever bought him, he has never taught, nor directed any association or club, nothing. He greets and send his regards...’. In this context, it is perfectly clear how the ‘Camera da letto’ became within the Florentine exhibition a more poetic ‘Room for Love’; Sottsass writes ‘inspired by the Kama Sutra, the antique Indian book on the art of making love – and Indians knew how to make love’. The room vibrates with desire, it is designed ‘around true love, the one that is made in bed, embracing one other, momentarily gasping a breath which comes from nowhere, from the origin of life’.

    Soon after in his text, he perfectly explains the meaning of the long ‘fresco of tiles’, which he describes as ‘row of ceramics’. ‘It is the visual instruments placed high on the walls, where it meets the ceiling, it evokes the oblivion of time and connects the moon, and all of the emblematic lunar phases, all of the skies, more or less dark or blue, to the Room of Love’.
    A short time before all of this, Mina, an Italian singer, topped the charts with the song ‘Il cielo in una stanza’. Nothing can more successfully underline the intuition and harmony within arts, of Art, than the wonderful coincidence translated into music with lyrics that talk of “rooms that no longer have walls, lilac ceilings that no longer exist, of sky above us’. Ettore’s ‘Row of ceramic’ has discarded the walls of architecture to reach the ineffable, an attempt to and hope that the way young people make love one day will win over all the hate and all the pain’: a project of Architecture of Life.

    - Fulvio Ferrari

Property from the Collection of Renzo Brugola


Important frieze

circa 1965
Glazed earthenware.
30 x 710 x 0.7 cm (11 3/4 x 279 1/2 x 0 1/4 in.)
Produced by Bitossi, Montelupo Fiorentino, Italy.

£130,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £162,500

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

Important Design

London Auction 18 October 2018