The role of objects is to ‘tell a tale’ said Alessandro Mendini. One of Italy’s most celebrated grandi maestri, Mendini died in February 2019 at the age of 87. His international renown was as a master of multiple disciplines—architecture, design, publishing—with intellect and curiosity. His legacy and life are appreciated through three rugs and his Proust armchair, objects that tell the tales of Mendini’s life, influences, and styles.
Drawing was core to Mendini. Disney captivated him as a youth, and the storytelling style of cartoonist Saul Steinberg is evident in Mendini’s sketches. The painting gallery in his childhood home designed by Piero Portaluppi was a recurring memory. Mendini’s Sunday Writings (2016) includes his 2006 self-portrait as a newborn in 1931. Lying next to his twin in a Portaluppi-upholstered armchair (which doubtless inspired his Proust armchair), the swaddled infant Mendini stretches his arms towards a female face, a creature who resembles an Alberto Savinio painting from the family home. Described by Mendini as ‘mediterranean surrealism’, Savinio’s paintings subtly influenced many Mendini designs.
Mendini often orchestrated his limitless ideas through iterations of a single idea or form. His Proust armchair—designed for Studio Alchimia in 1978—has been produced over the decades in multiple patterns, materials (wood, plastic, bronze, marble, ceramic), colours, sizes and surface treatments. Its heavily carved Rococo bergère-style frame symbolises the bourgeois lifestyle against which Studio Alchimia tilted. Mendini tamed the frame by merging surface with upholstery, similar to how his contemporary— English painter Howard Hodgkin—painted from the canvas onto the frame. The chair immortalises memories and Mendini’s idea that objects can be ‘read’ via its reference to Marcel Proust’s novel A la recherche du temps perdu. Mendini told La Repubblica in 2016 that the book is ‘…a network of sequences without beginning or end. It mirrors the path of my life’. Mendini remained faithful to his Proustian muse from its ‘birth’ until his death.
Mendini believed designers shouldn’t keep inventing new objects when existing objects could be the canvas for exploration. The rug as blank canvas allowed Mendini to do so. Milky Way, designed in 2008 for Moret Carpets, Italy, hand-knotted in Nepal, is a reworking of his earlier ‘cosmological sketch’. The design incorporates his theme of voluntary and involuntary memories.
is srl. Photo courtesy Memph
02 AM5 rug, Alessandro Mendini, Life’s Commodities 2004 Collection—Post Design, limited edition
03 Earthquake rug Collection, Alessandro Mendini, ‘Perspectiva’ exhibition, Fragile Milano, 2016
04 Alessandro Mendini
05 Milky Way rug, Alessandro Mendini for Moret Carpets, Italy, 2018, Proust Chair, Alessandro Mendini