Alessi: Ethical and Radical


Alessi is a magical name in the world for pioneering the manufacture of quality, cutting-edge designs that cross the ever-blurring boundaries between industry and art. The company’s popularity worldwide for high-end household objects is unparalleled and the launch of each new product becomes a buzz-worthy media event.

Founded in 1921 by Giovanni Alessi near Lake Orta in the foothills of the Italian Alps in an area known for its craft traditions in wood and metal, the company has been a family enterprise for generations. In the 1950s under the leadership of Giovanni’s son, Carlo, Alessi began to commission products from outside designers, and 20 years later Carlo’s eldest son Alberto brought the company to prominence on the international design scene by engaging top tier designer/architects.

Alessi: Ethical and Radical, an exhibition on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, traces a series of milestones from 1955 to the present that introduced utilitarian forms with artistic innovation to the mass population. Alessi’s collaborations with Ron Arad, the Campana Brothers, Achille Castiglioni, Greg Lynn, Ettore Scotsass, Philippe Starck, and Robert Venturi, to name a few, propelled these already well-known names into another stratosphere garnering a broad consumer base for their products.

A fine example of Alessi’s daring approach is architect/designer Michael Graves’s ubiquitous iconic tea kettle with blue handle and a small red bird shaped whistle (1985) both whimsical and ultra modern with a dash of color (shown above) which made a revolutionary impact in the way the world viewed everyday objects and continues to be a bestseller to this day.

The exhibition of 150 objects is organized into two sections: family and factory history and a survey of past, present and future, including the radical experimental projects Tea and Coffee Piazza of 1983 and the Tea and Coffee Towers of 2003 (above), and architect superstar Zaha Hadid’s modular centerpiece Niche (2009). Among the early works in the exhibition, are Carlo Alessi’s Bombé Tea and Coffee Service (1945) representing Alessi’s transition from handcrafted works to industrial products.

Alberto Alessi’s contribution to the firm’s collaborative approach is displayed with objects dating from the late 1970s to 2010 that demonstrate the unprecedented creative freedom and technical support he provides. Rounding out the history and methodology are drawings, historical factory photographs, and videos representing a solid survey of the company’s contributions and evolution.

Alessi: Ethical and Radical
Innovative Design Takes Center Stage
At The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Through April 19, 2011

Photos, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, from top:

Blow up Citrus Basket (2004), by Fernando and Umberto Campana. Stainless steel. 14 3/16 x 13 3/4 x 12 3/8 inches.

Juicy Salif Citrus Squeezer (1990), by Philippe Starck. Silver, black, gold (PSJS), 1990. Aluminum casting. 11 7/16 inches x 5 1/2 inches.

Anna G Corkscrew (1994), by Alessandro Mendini. Black and chrome-plated zamak.. 9 5/8 inches x 2 3/4 inches.

Kettle with handle and small bird-shaped whistle, (1985), by Michael Graves. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of the designer.

Tea & Coffee Towers (2003), by Future Systems: Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete. Press coffee maker or infuser, coffee cup, sugar bowl, milk jug, tray. heat-resistant glass with lid in thermoplastic resin, anodized aluminum, handles and lids in thermoplastic resin..25 13/16 x 15 9/16 x 1 3/8 inches.

Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi.

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