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October 4th, 2010
Exhibition of Alessi Household Objects Explores Unique Design Collaborations

Alessi, the world-renowned manufacturer of design household objects is especially 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 (November 21, 2010 through April 10, 2011) 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 will include some 150 objects, drawings, historic factory photographs, and videos that document the achievements of the family-owned company’s projects.

On November 20, 2010, 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 objects in this exhibition demonstrate the results of Alessi’s unique, risk-taking approach to design and, consequently, how they blur the boundaries between industrial manufacturing and art,” said Kathryn Hiesinger, Curator of Decorative Arts After 1700.

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 hand-crafted works to industrial products. The company’s first collaboration with an outside design team is also represented in this section: Luigi Massoni and Carlo Mazzeri’s 1957 cocktail set. The sleek elegance of this work ushered in a new era of designer products, introduced by Alberto Alessi’s father, Carlo, and his uncle, Ettore. 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. Works by Richard Sapper, whose 9091 kettle with its two-tone singing whistle (1983) was the first to become a household icon, will be on view next to contemporary classics such as Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif citrus squeezer (1990). A number of objects have whimsical qualities, such as Riccardo Dalisi’s stainless-steel Neapolitan coffee maker (1987), paired with his anthropomorphic Figural Prototype with Chair, Pierangelo Caramia’s Penguin teapot (1993) and Stefano Giovannoni’s Mary Biscuit box (1995). Other works reflect the architectural styles of their designers, among them Mario Botta’s precisely angled Mia and Tua pitchers (2000), and Zaha Hadid’s Niche centerpiece (2009), composed of several elements that can be assembled into multiple configurations.

A final element of the exhibition includes selected works from the firm’s two most famous experimental projects: the Tea and Coffee Piazza of 1983 and the Tea and Coffee Towers of 2003, each curated and coordinated by Alessandro Mendini and produced by Alessi. 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 flower-like 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. Displayed in close proximity to each other, the Tea and Coffee Piazza project and the Tea and Coffee Towers project demonstrate the exceptional changes that occurred in style and technology during the two decades that separated these projects.

Alberto Alessi is presently moving his company into the future, working with such designers as the Campana Brothers, Rowan & Erwan Bouroullec, and Pauline Deltour. Some of the factory’s early designs by Carlo Alessi are now being reissued using modern production methods – in the belief that their design and function still satisfy contemporary needs.

About Collab:
Collab is a collaboration of design professionals and enthusiasts supporting the modern and contemporary design collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A volunteer committee founded in 1970, Collab is dedicated to enriching the Museum’s Modern and Contemporary Design collection with outstanding examples of mass-produced and unique designs, and making the collections accessible to the general public, students, and the design community through special exhibitions and programming. Now among the most important in the country, the design collection houses more than 2,500 objects ranging from furniture to ceramics, glass, wallpaper, lighting, and functional objects.

Through its sponsorship of the Design Excellence Award, Collab has recognized the significant contributions to design history of individuals such as Ingo Maurer, Gaetano Pesce, Maya Lin, Frank Gehry, Florence Knoll Bassett and Milton Glaser, to name a few. In conjunction with the award program, the Collab Student Competition highlights the design ingenuity of regional college students as inspired by the work of the current award recipient.

About Alessi:
The family-owned and operated company was founded in 1921 by Giovanni Alessi near Lake Orta in the foothills of the Italian Alps, an area known for highly developed craft traditions in wood and metal. In the 1950s, under the leadership of Giovanni’s son, Carlo Alessi, the company began to commission products from outside designers, and it was through this strategy that Carlo’s eldest son, Alberto Alessi, brought the company to the forefront of international design.

Born in Arona (Novara) in 1946, Alberto Alessi is President and Director of Marketing Strategies and Design Management at Alessi S.p.A. The eldest son of Carlo Alessi, Alerto joined the company in 1970. Alberto Alessi is a member of the Academic Board of the U.I.A.H., Helsinki and sits on the Honorary Committee of the Design Museum, London. He is a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, London; Honorary Professor of the Hochschule der Bildenden Kunste, Saarbrucken; Doctor Honoris Causa of the U.I.A.H. of Helsinki; Doctor of Fine Arts at the Miami University of Oxford, Ohio; and, has an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University at the University of Central England, Birmingham. In 1998 he received the Design Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Alessi: Ethical and Radical (November 21, 2010 to April 10, 2011) is made possible by the generous support of Lisa S. Roberts and David W. Seltzer and of Collab – a nonprofit group of design professionals that supports the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary design collection and related programs – in collaboration with the Museo Alessi. Support for the Collab Student Competition is provided by Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and for the V.I.P. reception and tour by ACE Private Risk Services and Marsh Private Client Services.

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