Published: November 2, 2010
Alessi, the renowned manufacturer of design household objects, is admired for its long history of collaboration with leading architects and designers, marrying utilitarian form with artistic innovation and bringing creativity into the lives of countless people around the world. “Alessi: Ethical and Radical,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art November 21 through April 10, surveys a series of milestone Alessi collaborations from 1955 to the present.
Focusing on Alessi’s projects with Ron Arad, the Campana Brothers, Achille Castiglioni, Michael Graves, Greg Lynn, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck, Robert Venturi and others, the exhibition includes some 150 objects, drawings, historic factory photographs and videos that document the achievements of the family-owned company’s projects.
On November 20, Alberto Alessi, president of the company and grandson of its founder Giovanni Alessi, will be honored at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with Collab’s distinguished Design Excellence Award.
The exhibition is organized into two sections: family and factory history and a survey of past, present and future Alessi objects by collaborating designers, including the radical experimental projects Tea and Coffee Piazza of 1983 and Tea and Coffee Towers of 2003. The introductory section includes a map of the exhibition plan designed by Alessandro Mendini.
Among the earliest works in the exhibition, Carlo Alessi’s Bombé Tea and Coffee Service, 1945, represents Alessi’s transition from handcrafted works to industrial products. The company’s first collaboration with an outside design team is represented by Luigi Massoni and Carlo Mazzeri’s 1957 cocktail set.
Alberto Alessi’s contribution to the firm’s approach to collaboration with designers makes up the balance of the exhibition, with objects dating from the late 1970s to 2010 that demonstrate the unprecedented creative freedom and technical support he has provided.
A final element of the exhibition includes selected works from the firm’s two most famous experimental projects: the Tea and Coffee Piazza and the Tea and Coffee Towers.
In 1983, Alessi identified 11 architects and gave them free rein to explore new forms and technologies. The now well-known results include services by Michael Graves, Hans Hollein, Charles Jencks, Richard Meier, Alessandro Mendini and Aldo Rossi.
Twenty years later, Alessi repeated the experiment with 22 architects for the Tea and Coffee Towers project, which produced Greg Lynn’s titanium flowerlike ensemble, Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levet of Future Systems designed a set made of heat-resistant clear glass, while Will Alsop’s vessels were designed to fit inside a rigid polychrome stereometric container.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For information, 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org .
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