Alessandro Mendini's portfolio

Poetry for life

For Alessandro Mendini, utensils and buildings had to be more than just their function. They had to breathe warmth and feeling.  With humor and bravado, he blended historical styles and movements and eventually became the best-known designer of post-modernism. 

Mendini called himself "a novelist who writes on objects".  His love of literature was immense and his Proust Chair, one of his most famous designs, is an ode to Marcel Proust, inventor of the modern novel.  The armchair with baroque curls is hand-painted with a pointillistic landscape à la Paul Signac, a contemporary of artist Proust.  In 2015, Magis produced a plastic version of the chair.  



As an innovator in the field of material use, Mendini entered into a partnership in 2017 with the plastic manufacturer Ecopixel. He had tiles made up mostly of recycled polyethylene in eight colours and 2.4 centimeters square.  He mixed and melted them, then pressed them into the shape of a chaise longue.  Each copy has a unique pattern. And they are all recyclable.

Take a corkscrew with movable arms and nine out of ten people see it as a swinging doll. This association is too banal for most designers to take seriously. But Alessandro Mendini, the defender of kitsch "because it has a relaxing effect", was not bothered by this kind of learned good taste.  He gave his corkscrew eyes, a mouth, hair and a dress, and named her Anna G after a good friend. 

Many people think Mendini's anthropomorphic kitchen utensil is a hideous thing.  But Anna G is still popular and has sold hundreds of thousands of times. And the Italian designer has more icons to his name, from the revolutionary Ramun LED lamp to the black-yellow blocked bus stops in Hanover.  If Mendini was not the most productive designer of post-modernism, he was certainly the most visible.

The museum was a gift to the city of Groningen on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Gasunie.  Director Frans Haks wanted something spectacular and so contacted Mendini.  The master himself designed the gold-coloured entrance building.  Philippe Starck was responsible for the drum-shaped pavilion and Frank Stella would have been responsible for the size of the third building, but his design in simple teflon proved in the end to be too expensive.  The Austrian agency Coop Himmelb(l)au eventually developed an alternative.



This building is considered to be one of the best examples of post-modern architecture and was included in the guide “1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die” (2015).  Mendini made use of the ‘cadavre exquis’ method, invented by the surrealistic poets around André Breton.  They complemented each other's words with random fragments of text.  Mendini created a cold fusion of extremely different pavilions designed by different architects.

At the time of his death at the beginning of this year, he was praised as the poster boy of the movement that ignored the modernist motto "form follows function" with lavish use of frills on his boots.  Mendini was a contemporary Renaissance man.  During his architectural studies he actually wanted to become a painter and he drew cartoons.  He had a great love for literature and, as an editor of magazines such as Casabella, Domus and Modo, he injected the design debate with contradictory ideas for decades.

Alessandro Mendini Bisazza Works from the Bisazza Foundation Collections yatzer 14
Alessandro Mendini Totem DIPYLON designed by Mendini and edited by Superego 301331 975729

"Ornament is crime" was more or less stated by modernist architect Adolf Loos in a famous essay from 1913.  Seventy years later he was ridiculed by Mendini.  In his designs for mosaic manufacturer Bisazza, Mendini went to the furthest in his passion for decoration.  The three geometric patterns are inspired by Arabic, Italian and Northern European examples. And as a bonus, he went beyond the golden tiles.



Mendini had a weakness for totems, objects with no apparent function but with great symbolic power.  He designed several throughout his career.  He placed his best known piece in 2016 in the Cité Radieuse apartment at Le Corbusier in Marseille.  A pleasant taunt directed towards the chief of modernist architecture.

It was from 1979 that Mendini had his greatest impact as a partner at Studio Alchimia, alongside other post-modernism well-knowns such as Sottsass and De Lucchi.  He designed for Cartier, Hermès, Swarovski and the streetwear brand Supreme.  From 1989 until his death he ran his own Atelier Mendini with brother Francesco.  From his drawing table came vases, equipment for Philips and train interiors, but also buildings looking like blown-up doll houses, of which the Groninger Museum is the best known.

This same museum will devote a retrospective exhibition about him this coming autumn that would certainly enhance his reputation because objects had a different role for Mendini outside of their function.  The step from design to art was a small one for him.

13. Lasso
Alessandro Mendini Kandissi Sofa collectie Groninger Museum foto Heinz Aebi
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Nothing illustrates Mendini's contempt for useful functionality as clearly as the Lassù Chair.  This is not really a chair but an object.  The name Lassù (above) sounds slightly spiritual.  In 1974, the designer set two copies of the chair on fire for the cover of the magazine Casabella, of which he was the editor.  The object thus became a performance.  The charred remains are kept nowadays in the Vitra Design Museum.




This sofa is part of the redesigned series that Mendini made for Studio Alchimia from the late 1970s.  This is post-modernism at its best: all kinds of existing elements are thrown together and presented as new.  The model was a Biedermeier sofa decorated with shapes derived from the abstract work of the early twentieth-century painter Wassily Kandinsky.




Zanotta is a respected furniture manufacturer for decades, known for, among other things, the Sacco beanbag and the first inflatable table to be mass-produced when it founded the Zabro experimental department in 1983.  Mendini was hired in to lead the project.  Zabro investigated the boundary between art and design. Most of the designs were made in limited editions and painted by hand.

This story was previously published in WOTH issue No 15