Alessandro Mendini


Born in Milan in 1931. He edited Casabella, Modo and Domus magazines, which he then re-edited in 2010 for 11 issues. Many essays have been written on his work and the work he undertook at the Alchimia studio. He created objects, pieces of furniture, environments, paintings, installations and architecture. He collaborated with international companies and was a consultant for various industries. He was an honorary member of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, honorary professor of the Academic Council of Guangzhou Academy of fine Arts in China, and “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” in France. He has received the Architectural League from New York, the Laurea Honoris Causa from Milan Politecnico and in 1979/1981 two Compasso d’oro awards for design. In 1989 he opened the Atelier Mendini studio in Milan with his architect brother Francesco Mendini. His works are in various museums and private collections; a large anthology has been dedicated to him at the Marca Museo delle arti in Catanzaro, and a homage-dialogue with the artist Fortunato Depero, at the Casa del Mago in Rovereto. Alessandro Mendini has been working for Zanotta since 1982 until his death in 2019.

Q. You were responsible for epochs of furniture design that were highly emotional and expressive, like Alchimia and Zabro. What do you remember about that exultant period? 
A. The Zabro Edizioni Collection of the 80’s, that Aurelio Zanotta created for Nuova Alchimia, were an incredible arena for linguistic experimentation. Italian design had, in that period, already overcome anti-design, radical design and the first aspects of post-modernism. Personally, the intense Zabro experience gave me a focalization on many formal and conceptual hypotheses, which Zanotta and Alessandro Guerriero directly, and very speedily transformed into furniture prototypes, objects and decorations. Zabro was a really decisive period in Alchimia’s evolution, made possible by, and tied up with Zanotta’s artisan know-how.

Q. At the Salone del Mobile furniture exhibition in 2011 Zanotta proposed the reissue of your Macaone table. Did that make you happy? 
A. The Macaone table is a piece from the Zabro 1985 collection to which I am particularly attached. When I designed those pieces of furniture and objects for Aurelio Zanotta and Nuova Alchimia, the idea was to reinterpret and give a different feeling to the styles of the 50’s, which was so typical in Italian furnishing. The Macaone table legs are inspired by Carlo Mollino, or at least by those poetic and bourgeois kind of Italian settings. Macaone was produced in a few versions both square and round. The most animated one has a square top divided into four strong colors which continue down the legs. It’s the one that interests me the most and I’m happy that Zanotta has reissued it.

Q. Which objects, from today’s design panorama, do you most approve of ? 
A. For the occasion of the “Magico Mendini” in Milan and St Moritz exhibition in the autumn of 2010, I had the opportunity to verify that only objects possessing soul are making their way into the third millennium. Contemporary design must rediscover, and delve into, the ancient matrix that makes use of spiritual attitudes that breathe life into objects.

Q. Art, artisan, design and industry: new synergies? 
A. The synthesis of the arts formula is no longer valid, and neither is the ‘from the spoon to the city’ one. We are in an era of collage and assembly of scenographic fragments which can be large or small, it doesn’t matter. The qualities of an object can be derived from very different parameters: art, language, technology, function, history, and sensibility. And in turn, these parameters can be interwoven. I believe that the care, serenity and love with which we design, makes all the difference.

Q. Are there any useful models in contemporary communications? 
A. Thousands of new virtual activities resound with actions that have no objective. The quantitative aberration of access to news and knowledge combined with the hyper-tertiary abstraction of crepuscular professions, makes the design energy-line extremely flat. Work means gadget, means lack of responsibility. Within this thoughtless (or cynical) reference model we have to look for, find, and act on a more responsible approach. In short it’s: aesthetic, humanistic, anthropological, and social.

Q. “Quali Cose Siamo” the third exhibition at the Triennale Design Museum conceived of and organized by you, was described by the New York Times as being the best exhibition of 2010. The reasons for its success? 
A. Today’s design is violently realistic, innovation has become a trend, even ecology is reduced to fashion. It is design that is flattened by stylistic hedonism and eclecticism without soul. Style has lost its most profound significance and has been transformed into superficial styling, a senseless and vacuous game of symbols… We need to believe in new quality, in new generosity, in new poetry. At the Triennale exhibition I didn’t choose design objects, but things. I thought about the encounters I’d had during my own life, they’re like tales that that can be recounted through things. It’s a process that each one of us can replicate in our own personal museums asking ourselves “ Which things am I?”

Q. Zanotta design: annotations on the past and the present. 
A. Zanotta, like many other Italian design industries, has successfully jumped the generation hurdle. Today there is a young and up-to-date Zanotta just as there is a historical and heroic one, the one belonging to Aurelio. Shapes correspond to new designers, new materials and new trends. This renewability seems to me to be deep-rooted and connected to the great traditions of the company, in an ideal continuity of method and style.

(interview with Mendini for the online magazine Zanotta Happenings, 2011)