The totemic Carlton room divider is a Memphis icon. The piece calls into question conventional furniture forms by combining a space divider, bookcase, and chest of drawers. Intended for the higher end of the market and finely handcrafted, it is made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and cheap plastic laminate, a subversion of high and low. The vivid colors and seemingly random interplay of solids and voids suggest avant-garde painting and sculpture. Yet underlying the surface is an entirely logical structural system of real and implied equilateral triangles. While at first sight the slanted shelving seems counterintuitive, it accommodates books which often fall over in upright shelving. The divider is open to interpretation: it may be read variously as a robot greeting the user with open arms, a many-armed Hindu goddess, or even a triumphant man atop a constructed chaos of his own making.
Ettore Sottsass was an Italian architect and designer.
His work included furniture, jewelry, glass, lighting, home and office objects, as well as many buildings and interiors. He grew up in Turin and graduated in Architecture from the Politecnico di Torino in 1939. In 1947, in Milan, he founded his architecture and industrial design studio, where he began to create work using various media. In 1956, Sottsass went to New York and began to work in George Nelson’s design studio. Back in Italy, he established major collaboration projects with Poltronova (1957) and Olivetti (1958). From the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s he collaborated with Superstudio and Archizoom Associati, within the Radical movement, until the foundation of Memphis Group in 1981, of which he was a founding member. In the mid-’80s, with Sottsass Associati, mainly an architecture studio, he also designed elaborate shops and showrooms, company identities, exhibitions, interiors, Japanese consumer electronics, and furniture of all kinds. Ettore Sottsass was presented numerous international awards, winning the ADI Compasso d’Oro in 1959. His work is on show in the permanent collections of many museums around the world such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Centre G. Pompidou in Paris, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London