Alessandro Mendini (August 16th 1931 - February 18th 2019), born in Milan, was a very versatile man. In addition to being an architect, he was also a designer, artist, theorist, and poet. Mendini published a great deal, writing columns regularly in international magazines. He can be seen as one of the founders of New Design. Mendini holded the opinion that ornamentation ought to be the point of departure for design.
In the seventies he was one of the main personalities of the Radical design movement. In 1979 he joined the Studio Alchimia as a partner and here he worked with Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi. In 1982 he co-founded Domus Academy, the first postgraduate design school.
As architect, he designed several buildings, for example the Alessi residence in Omegna, Italy, the theater complex "Teatrino della Bicchieraia" in the Tuscan city of Arezzo, the Forum Museum of Omegna, a memorial tower in Hiroshima, Japan, the Groninger Museum in The Netherlands and the Arosa Casino in Switzerland.
His work in product design was influential in the sense that it pushed the boundaries of what products could be. A notable example is his Lassú chair form 1974, a chair built on top of a pyramid structure, which forgoes conventional notions of function. Mendini was addressing the domestic object as a conduit for spirituality, an idea reinforced by his ritualised burning of the chair outside the office of Casabella in 1975.
His design has been characterized by his strong interest in mixing different cultures and different forms of expression; he creates graphics, furniture, interiors, paintings and architectures and wrote several articles and books; he is also renowned as an enthusiastic member of jury in architectural competition for young designers, such as the DBEW competition in South Korea or the Braun prize. He also teaches at the University of Milan. Currently he runs his own practice in Milan, the Atelier Mendini, together with his brother Francesco Mendini.
He is sure that people no longer wish to have mass products. A human is an individual and needs personality instead of the anonymity of functional design. 'Every person is different,' says Mendini, 'so why shouldn't an object also be different?' In Mendini's view, it is not the function of the object that ought to be the starting point, but its beauty - thus, not the object but the user.
A number of features can be discovered in Mendini's work that are also reflected in the Groninger Museum. For instance, he denies traditional hierarchical orders in art and the historical division into time and place. He finds art-historical styles, exotic cultures, and kitsch all equally important.
Furthermore, Mendini thinks that there are no boundaries between the various activities in which he is engaged. Theatre, visual art, architecture, and science can be freely intermingled. Any distinction between these disciplines is superfluous.
Mendini claims that everything has already been invented and used. The only thing that remains is to use it again. This is expressed in redesign and in a great appreciation of decoration.
A third feature of Mendini's work is his co-operation with others. In his artistic career he has entered various co-operative efforts with artists, architects, and designers. This has led to the creation of furniture, objects, clothes, décors, paintings, theatre performances, ceramics, and jewellery, and also buildings such as the Groninger Museum. The desire to breach the boundaries of traditional specialist areas means, almost by definition, that Mendini is more active as a director and deviser than as an executor.
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