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Ettore Sottsass & Shiro Kuramata

Exhibition details

17 July, 2021
14 August, 2021
Event Category:

Novalis Contemporary Art Design Gallery is pleased to present Ettore Sottsass & Shiro Kuramata, curated by Seiki Mori/United Voice, and supported by the Italian Cultural Institute of Hong Kong and the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong. 2021 marks both the 30th anniversary of Shiro Kuramata’s death and the 40th anniversary of the Memphis Group. The exhibition looks at the extraordinary friendship between the Italian design master Ettore Sottsass (1917 – 2007) and the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata (1934 – 1991) during their time within the Memphis Group. Their work will be on view from 17th July to 14th August 2021. An online talk between Novalis founder/ Mr. William Figliola, Former Chairman of Japanese Commercial Environmental Design Association (JCD)/ Mr. Iijima Naoki, and Lead Curator of M+ Museum/ Ms. Ikko Yokoyama will also be hosted in early August.


The encounter between the two was magical. When Kuramata received a letter from Sottsass asking him to join the Memphis Group, he was so elated he said, “I got a love letter from Sottsass!” Their interaction began in 1981 with Memphis Group, a project that had tremendous impact on the design world. At that time doubts were being cast on modern design with its pursuit of function and rationality. Sottsass called on designers all over the world and launched the Memphis Group as a solution. The two shared the same love for design, kindred souls in their belief that there is more to design than mere functional objects.


Despite the difference in expressive styles, their work conveys the same stance towards pushing design as a ‘culture’ that goes beyond the category of mere ‘civilisation’. To Ettore Sottsass, “if there is a reason for the existence of design, it is that it manages to give – or give anew – instruments and things this sacred charge for which […] men enter the sphere of ritual, meaning life.” Design should not merely be functional objects, but remind people of the joy of living through engaging in sensuality. Shiro Kuramata stated that the “function of design should not be just about whether it is practical or not. Enchantment should also be considered as function.” This enchantment can be found in Kuramata’s experimental materials, in the light captured within ‘star piece’ terrazzo used in ‘Nara’ (1983), where Kuramata substituted traditional marble chips used in terrazzo with coloured glass.


The meaning of ‘design’ and ‘creation’ may change drastically as today’s excessive market economics and materialistic society comes under fire. Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass are trying to get us to ask, “What is an unconstrained free spirit?” and “What is design in the true sense?”



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