Thoughts & Things
Igor Chelkovski. Vary of Images

The US architect Robert Venturi challenged the famous modernist maxim of Mies van der Rohe with a playful «Less is a bore» notion. On November 15, 2017, the Palisander gallery opened its Counterdesign: 70s, 80s exhibition, devoted to postmodernism and its heroes: Ettore Sottsass, Shiro Kuramata, Michele de Lucchi, and other designers who created provocative objects counterposed to mundanity and boredom. 

In accordance with the gallery’s tradition the design pieces were displayed alongside paintings and graphic art of the period, including works by Claude Bellegarde and Ettore Sottsass.

Having witnessed the mid-century era, young designers of the 1970s and 1980s left the modernist style behind intentionally and accused it of being egalitarian and formal. The new forms and materials appeared alongside the new attitude. The rebellious spirit of the late 1960s penetrated all fields of culture, satirizing the consumerist society, rejecting its traditional aesthetics and the middle-class notion of good taste. Counterdesign pieces of the 1970s and 1980s may appear chaotic and irregular to an audience accustomed to the precise proportions of the good design. The new designers abandoned sleek outlines and rich textures in favour of weird awkward shapes, bright colours and innovative materials. They chose lacquered laminate over precious wood, acrylic textiles over leather, aesthetics of a roadside snackbar over a middle-class living room ambience. These unconventional materials and flamboyant forms constructed the language of postmodernist artistic narrative. 

A common household object began to speak for itself and transmit a certain original concept. A designer piece, having preserved its functionality, became a message with numerous associations, quotations and hints. The material poetry of a piece, its concept and semantics came to matter just as much as its beauty, functionality and ergonomics. In the 1970s the «less is more» formula wasn’t relevant any more. Groups of radical designers changed the identity of material culture and gained numerous supporters. Such celebrities, as David Bowie and Karl Lagerfeld started to collect counterdesign of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Since 2015 the design world has been going through a period of renewed interest in radical design of the 1970s and 1980s. Well-known Italian brands appealed to their archives and started to relaunch furniture, textiles and accessories of the time. In 2016 400 postmodernist design pieces were sold at Sotheby’s auction in London. They were part of David Bowie’s collection including works by Ettore Sottsass, Michele de Lucchi and other designers of the 1970s and 1980s. In 2017 fashion for ornaments and colours of the Memphis group (group of radical designers founded by Ettore Sottsass) peaked at international exhibitions and fairs. The year was marked by several major retrospective exhibitions of the maitre, who would have turned 100 years old in 2017.