Italian designer Enzo Mari died last Monday, October 19th, 2020 at the age of eighty-eight at San Raffale Hospital in Milan. The opportunity for us to present a man who has always defended design for everyone. Imposing and radical figure in the world of design. A great maestro and international theorist, Mari was as well known for his temperament as for his elegant and functional objects.
Born in 1932 in Cerano, in the province of Novare (Piedmont, Italy), he trained in Milan. He enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera (Academy of Fine Arts in Brera) from 1952 to 1956. He studied painting and sculpture there before concentrating on scenography. At the end of the 1950s, he began to design objects.
Objects still in production
He is interested in avant-garde movements and industrial design. He began to collaborate with Danese from 1957. Among his most famous creations of this time, we find the “16 ANIMALI”. A wooden puzzle made up of 16 land animals. First produced in wood, then in honeycomb paper from 1963. In 1958, he created the Putrella table top from a folded industrial beam in raw metal. Produced in limited edition (100 pieces per year).
From the 1960s, Mari took an interest in Arte Programmata, the movement of Italian kinetic art. With his wife, Iela Mari, he publishes a textless picture book for children. “La mela e la farfalla” (The apple and the butterfly). Simple graphics, combining sobriety and poetry, letting the child develop his personal imagination. To the conceptual activity is added the will to educate, which he will continue until 2000.
60 years of activity
He will collaborate within illustrious institutions such as the Polytechnic of Milan. He taught architecture and design there. When asked: “What is good design?” Mari responds, “Good means sustainable, accessible, functional, well-made, emotionally relevant, resilient, socially beneficial, beautiful, ergonomic and financially accessible.” .
Mari continued to innovate throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. We owe him the Box Chair (Anonima Castelli, 1971-76). A brown molded plastic chair with circular perforations on the seat and back. The Sof Sof Chair (Driade, 1972), characterized by 9 iron rod rings that make up the seat and the backrest. In collaboration with Giancarlo Fassina, he designs the Aggregate lighting system (Artemide, 1970 – 1979).
But we especially remember the Delfina chair (Driade, 1974), rewarded by the prestigious Compasso d’Oro prize in 1979. A chair whose structure is made of very fine steel wire. Or the Tonietta (Zanotta, 1985). 1st Chair Prize at the New York International Design Fair in 1986. Another Compasso d´Oro in 1987. With its atypical lines and its great lightness, this chair stood out as soon as it was released. It is enjoying real commercial success thanks to its radically different treaty. Recognizable among a thousand thanks to its semi-circular backrest, Tonietta ennobles the notion of industrial aesthetics, characteristic of the 80s. Simple, graphic, sophisticated and light. It combines pure form and quality materials. The saddle leather seat and back give it a precious appearance. A version, without a doubt, revisited of Thonet’s No. 14 chair designed in 1859.
Most talented designer and activist without compromise
Inspired by marxism influences, although he never joined the Italian Communist Party, the notion of affordability was a constant concern for him. His main interest was to create as much as possible elegant and functional objects from cheap materials. His theories and his activity have largely contributed to making “Fatto in Italia” a reference all over the world. During his long career, he received several prestigious distinctions, including 5 Compassi d’oro.
Two days before his death, the Milan Triennial had just inaugurated a fascinating retrospective. “Enzo Mari organized by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli”. Documenting more than 60 years of activity of one of the leading masters and theorists of Italian design. The architect and president of the Triennale, Stefano Boeri was the first to give the news. He announced it in these terms “Ciao Enzo. Te ne vai da Gigante ”(Goodbye Enzo. You go like a giant). The works will be on display there until April 18, 2021. Many of them may not be seen for decades. Mari donated his archives to the city of Milan, with instructions not to disclose its contents for forty years.