Goodbye To Alessandro Mendini, The Designer Of Communication

Mendini

One of the most influential Italian designers and architects died at the age of 87, leaving us a great legacy

In February, the famous designer and architect Alessandro Mendini died at the age of 87 in Milan, his home town. From the ‘70s forward, he was considered one of the most influential Italian figures in his field, having always applied artistic and ideological theory to his projects. The ideologies he took inspiration from are explained and discussed in the prominent art magazines he directed for years, such as Domus, Casabella and Modo. Besides shaping some iconic independent design objects, he also collaborated with important brands such as Alessi, Cartier, Hermès, Swatch and Philips, to name a few.

Alessandro Mendini
Alessandro Mendini

‘A novel written on the objects’

Mendini used to define himself as a ‘novelist who writes on objects’, using a very unique and complex alphabet. “I pretend that my projects are pieces of literature – he explained in a recent interview – and I use interwined signs to represent aesthetics, emotion, content and geometry”. His art, then, could be seen as an alternative way of communication, an effort to go beyond the simple utility of the object. By applying this ideology to customary goods, Mendini tried to speak to everyone, as he did with the corkscrews designed for Alessi, which became actual lively characters with a name: Alessandro M. and Anna G.

The Alessi series of corkscrews Anna G. designed by Alessandro Mendini

The emblematic Proust Chair

The connection with literature and the idea of writing on objects is perfectly recreated in the famous Proust Chair (1978). Inspired by Marcel Proust’s colossal novel, La Recherche, this chair is one of the most coherent and appreciated works by Mendini. Indeed, it combines the complex and stratified structure of the Proustian book together with Signac’s pointillism technique. Specifically – and here is the idea of design as a writing act – Mendini decorated a fake 18th century chair, by creating a striking and at the same time ambiguous object, as he himself called it: “It was not a piece of design, it was not literature, it was not painting. Simultaneously, it was all of this.”

Proust Chair Alessandro Mendini
Alessandro Mendini’s Proust Chair

Kitsch can be taken seriously

Ambiguity is one of the central features of the so-called ‘kitsch’, a combination of absurdity and bad taste. According to Mendini, kitsch has its dignity and precise rules (diminishing of the figure; translation of the function and stridor of the colors), and it is useful if intended as a category, as “it is relaxing and it helps us feel better”. Moreover, paraphrasing what he wrote in 1979, reflecting a kitsch style is a political action, as it is often associated with massive art and as it represents “the Trojan horse of popular masses to reappropriate art. […] Kitsch is applied art and is adapted to everyone and to everyday life.”

Architecture

Exactly to everyone and everyday life are addressed some of his most well-known architectural works. For example, three stations of the Naples subway, the renewal of the Rome railway station and the municipal theater of Arezzo. Abroad, the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands surely deserves to be mentioned, as well as the Tower of Paradise in Hiroshima, symbol of hope and prosperity for the Japanese city devastated by the atomic bomb. More in general, this tower is emblematic of what Mendini thought about the relation between design and happiness: “I am pessimist by nature. However, a project always implies optimism, so I feel like I have to be positive too.”