The 1960s birthed a wave of brilliance in the form of mid-century Italian design. Spanning over two decades and infiltrating a multitude of disciplines, this movement is often referred to as Italy's Golden Age of Design. The crest of this wave peaked in Milano, where many masters ripe for innovation contributed to its perennial imprint. Two of which, Gio Ponti and Paolo Buffa, inspired students with breakthrough methods in furniture design, pushing technical boundaries and utilizing plastics, ceramics, and chrome in compelling new ways. Among these students was Mario Bellini, whose multi-disciplinary legacy is dotted with an array of eclectic triumphs. From industrial product design to furniture and architecture, Bellini’s efforts undeniably expanded the movement's perpetual caché.
Post-war Italy, free from the constructs of traditional long-run manufacturing, allowed for experimental exploration (aesthetically and ethically) in all forms of design. A shift away from the functionality of 1930s Bauhaus towards sculptural and performative pieces injected personality and conflicting narratives. For today’s viewer these various forms read as strikingly contemporary, and because of the quality control allotted many remain in top condition. Year after year, the public was enamoured with presentations at Milano’s Triennale and Salone del Mobile. Manufacturers favored mass production but designers catered to niche markets which manifested in a span of work that bridges the ideals of traditional craftsmanship and the functionality of modern techniques.
Bellini began his career consulting and designing products for top manufacturing and electronics companies. He created furniture for Cassina, B&B Italia, and electronics for Olivetti, Yamaha, and Brionvega among others. His 1969 design of the “Cubo” television for Brionvega was a well regarded staple of its era and resides today at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Among other successes was the “Cab” chair for Cassina which was the first of its kind - a free-standing leather structure inspired by the way human skin stretches over the skeleton. Arguably, one of Bellini's best years was 1972, when for the MoMA show, “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape,” Bellini contributed his now famous Camaleonda sofa for B&B Italia which remains a sought-after piece by collectors today. Connected by a system of carabiners, the bulging form accented by deep tufting can be assembled into endless configurations. This flexibility speaks literally to the freedom of the entire movement and is essential in Bellini’s process. This year marks the first in reproduction since 1979 for the Camaleonda, shining a well-deserved light back onto Bellini and his legacy. This time around, the sofa, whose name comes from the words “chameleon” and “wave” combined, uses all recycled materials, satisfying today’s values-driven collector.
In that same year of 1972, Bellini decided to make his way back to architecture; a second act of sorts, where he has continued to excel for years. An endlessly curious soul, Bellini finds inspiration in our material culture and technology, old and new. Speaking to his inspiration, last year he stated that, “One must also know how to suffer, how to be stubborn, and at the same time absurdly optimistic.” Bellini boasts an abundance of honors, including eight prestigious Compasso d’Oro design awards and more than twenty pieces housed in MoMA’s permanent collection. Through these unparalleled successes, Mario Bellini has proven himself a true luminary of our time, providing design enthusiasts a continuous source of insight, motivation, and creativity.
By: Alexis Kanter
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