A “new painting” came to the fore at the end of the 1970s, led by Italians Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, and the Americans David Salle and Julian Schnabel, which was forcefully expressive, figuratively representative and colourful, presenting a new illustrative vocabulary in painting.
In parallel to this trend, a new furniture aesthetic developed under the name Memphis in Milan. The name made reference to the home of rock-and-roll in America and on the other hand made allusion to ancient Egyptian culture. Under this aegis a number of designers including Ettore Sottsass, Michele de Lucchi, Alessandro Mendini, Martine Bedin and Nathalie du Pasquier, overstepped all previous conventions and asked questions of what before then was considered modern. They presented a ‘new design’ radically bursting through previous design boundaries.
The Memphis Group was active from 1980 to 1987. Its postmodern furniture, lighting, fabrics and objects were characterised by colourful and abstract decoration, asymmetrical forms, and references to earlier and exotic designs and styles. One of the great breaks from the immediate past was the idea that form and function should stand in equal partnership – the Memphis artists believed in an uninhibited aesthetic freedom.
As a result Memphis changed the course of design history, creating an aesthetic that represented a distinct moment in time immediately recognisable as a 1980s look. Its legacy is significant in allowing a new generation of designers the freedom to break all the rules.
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