“Memphis Again” Exhibition Brings Groundbreaking Pop Culture Designs to MAM Shanghai
The museum gets transformed into a psychedelic club with iconic items from the 1980s
MAM Shanghai is delighted to announce its new exhibition, “Memphis Again”, which opens on 14 May and runs until 30 July.
The exhibition will bring the colourful, post-modern designs of the renowned Memphis Group to MAM Shanghai and recreate the excitement and exuberance of their work from the mid-1980s via artwork, objects and music of the era.
The exhibition, which comes to China from Milan, Italy, contains nearly 200 of the most iconic pieces of furniture and objects created by the Memphis Group of designers, artists and architects between 1981 and 1985.
Under the leadership of Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, the Memphis Group was united by a desire to create colourful, non-conformist and abstract designs as an antidote to the bland, corporatised furniture of the era. With elements of Art Deco, Pop Art and 1950s kitsch, the designs were radical compared to the minimalist designs of the time.
Named after Bob Dylan’s track “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” which had been playing in the background during their first meeting, the Memphis Group soon attracted a popular following, with early champions including David Bowie and Karl Lagerfeld, as well as inspiring the look of television shows and product designs.
Visitors to the exhibition will find themselves immersed in the strong, visual images of the era which will make them the stars of their very own Memphis-inspired fashion show, set to the backdrop of music specially created by the American DJ Seth Troxler.
The MAM Shanghai exhibition hall itself will be transformed into a Memphis psychedelic club. Insights from critics, architects, and designers will be projected on the walls and interspersed among the works, offering viewers a special perspective on how this cultural movement marked a new era in Italian and even global design production.
Visitors will be taken back in time to that first gathering of designers in the home of Ettore Sottsass and Barbara Radice, playing Bob Dylan music, to the first Memphis collection in 1981 at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, to its influence on Bowie, Lagerfeld and others.
“Memphis Again” is not a tribute, nor does it attempt to deify these extraordinary works. The purpose of the exhibition is the same as when the movement was launched in 1981 — to focus on the expressive power and cultural possibility of design itself.
Memphis inherently aspires to shelve the language of design and architecture in favour of another design mission: to envision emphasising emotional, psychological, problem-aware, and disciplinary identities while addressing functional purposes. Sottsass himself wanted his designs to provoke and stimulate conversations, believing that it was more important to communicate ideas than to mass-produce objects.
“A good design is like the possibility of going to the moon,” he wrote. “Few people will have the opportunity to experience it directly, but its existence will change the lives of millions.”
Shai Baitel, artistic director of MAM Shanghai, says: “Memphis was more than just a set of radical objects — it was also designed with a spiritual philosophy in mind. The contrast that the work of Memphis presents to the staid, sleek object design of Minimalism and Modernism is marked, and has much to do with its utilisation of ornament — an aesthetic antagonist of the global hipster design style that is so prevalent today. David Bowie, a famous early client of the group, described “the jolt, the impact, created by walking into a room containing a cabinet by Memphis.”
He adds: “Memphis cabinets — flagship items of the furniture group — were indeed a shift from the soft lines, glass, and muted colours of much late Modernist 1970s design. Horizontal and diagonal shelving, built as if taken directly from an imaginative designer’s sketchbook, creates a peculiar, versatile structure of varying angles to cradle books or art objects. Contrasting the structure is the faux-terrazzo vinyl finish, bridging high — and low-brow design in an innovative, bold gesture, printed in both muted and flashy colour schemes. These objects, existing in a liminal space between art, design, and something alien, feel at once bespoke and unknowable. ’
MAM Shanghai is the largest contemporary art museum in Shanghai, measuring over 7,000 square meters. The state of the art museum located at the heart of Shanghai ’ s cultural mile along the Huangpu River is a premier institution for contemporary art with a global and multidisciplinary approach.
Memphis Again will be at MAM Shanghai between 14 May and 30 July.
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