Established in 1980 by Ettore Sottass, the Memphis Group applied its design attitude to architecture, furniture, fabrics, fashion, ceramics, glass and metal art. Its name came from Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with The Memphis Blues Again” which apparently played during a first meeting.
Asymmetrical, geometric shapes, plastic laminate, and bold color were prevalent in an approach that combined Art Deco, Pop, and 1950s kitsch as freely as it did cheap and bespoke materials. Memphis was often compared in an unflattering way to the appearance of toys and/or said to anthropo- morphize objects. Its 1981 debut at Milan’s Salone de Mobile made an appreciable splash.
Formally disbanded in 1988, author Claire Bingham suggests a new wave of Memphis is increasingly apparent. Millennials, she posits, are drawn to its irreverence and uniqueness. The group’s influence is again filtering through multiple fields of culture. “Who wants a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling when you can have a parrot-like Tahiti lamp? For all the sophistication of midcentury modern, there is nothing like a bit of Sottass to cheer a place up.”
The volume features photos of international hotels and homes whose structural bones may be vastly different, but whose sense of daring and humor unite them. Seeing Memphis in situ with wildly different perspective not only clarifies its effect but offers ideas.
A short note on Ettore Sottass and brief interviews with co-founders Peter Shire and George Snowdon offer history/recollections. This section might’ve been considerably richer as the two men are both articulate and active.
Work/opinions of nonconformist contemporary designers influenced by Memphis includes interior designer Sasha Bikoff and “product” designers from Brooklyn, New York; Valencia, Spain; London, England; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Berlin, Germany; Montreal, Canada; Madrid, Spain; and Hong Kong, China. Everything from screen installations to rugs to fashion is exemplified. We hear from Olivia Kim, Vice President of Creative Projects at Nordstrom and curator and furniture collector Keith Johnson.
Author Claire Bingham has done her homework. Whether you respect the upstart origin of Memphis or are intrigued by current possibilities, this beautifully produced book with superb photos would make a worthy addition to a library. Though not scholarly, it’s well researched, and written in lively, highly accessible, vignette style in English and German.
Opening: Left – TECHNICOLOR DREAMHOUSE, NEW YORK, USA Photo © Courtesy of Sasha Bikoff Interior Design/© Genevieve Garrupo
Right: HAYON STUDIO, VALENCIA, SPAIN Photo © Courtesy of Hayon Studio/© Klunderbie
© More is More by Claire Bingham, published by teNeues, $ 55, www.teneues.com