Postmodern design began in Italy as a response to a crisis of faith in modernity. At the end of World War II, industrial progress was the driving force for growth, ensuring the spread of highly innovative products. The first energy crisis after the war, which impacted the western countries at the start of the 1970s, put a stop to the enthusiasm with which people had embraced a modern lifestyle, calling into question the idea that industry, with its environmental and social impact, could be the ideal means of progress towards a freer, happier society.
Postmodern culture emerged against this backdrop in the 1980s, taking its distance from modernist codes and the blindly ‘rational’ values on which they were based. In this sense, postmodern languages featuring the recovery of color and decoration represented a deliberate inversion of the rules of design in the industrial era: as opposed to structural and chromatic austerity, the postmodern avoided product rationalization with painstaking spontaneity, opting instead for unbalanced compositions and chromatic dissonance.
This is the outlook in which to grasp the lesson of the masters of the postmodern, ‘practical philosophers’ like Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi, Alessandro Mendini or Alessandro Guerriero, whose iconoclastic verve was not the expression of a rejection of design itself, but of a palingenesis of the project that in an era when the values of industrial functionality seemed to be wavering, would go back to the roots of the creation of objects to rediscover their original meaning. Being ‘post,’ i.e. ‘after’ the modern era, thus meant taking a programmatic position outside modernity, to explore creative resources excluded from the narrow perimeter of industrial civilization.
This explains the apparent contrast, typical of the postmodern, between objects of geometric composition such as those of Sottsass, and the use of neo-primitive codes applied by Andrea Branzi. These two approaches were derived, in fact, from the same effort to get out of the modern orbit and to draw on older and newer, deeper and lighter sources, through the reinsertion in design of playful and colorful elements and openly neo-primitive references. Today, at the start of the third decade of the 21st century, design culture is in a situation that in many ways is similar to that of the 1980s.
Hence it is not by change that the linguistic evolution in the field shows a direct link to the aesthetics of this relatively recent past. Once again, the negative effects of our collective pursuit of affluence are increasingly visible. Global warming, extreme weather, lack of hydric and nutritional resources, not to mention the risk of pandemics, are stable themes on the political agency in the industrial nations. Design again has to respond to a crisis of faith in progress. Large geometric pieces of furniture, broken down with a logic of surreal elegance, represent a widespread trend that is clearly the heir of the postmodern legacy. But there’s more.
Design again has to respond to a crisis of faith in progress. Large geometric pieces of furniture, broken down with a logic of surreal elegance, represent a widespread trend that is clearly the heir of the postmodern legacy. But there’s more. The ‘instafriendly’ aesthetic of these products, determined by a primordial geometricism that borders on the metaphysical, is particularly suited to impact on social networks, intercepting contemporary visual tastes.
Thus the moderately playful arched form of the Mono seat by Objects & Ideas updates the playful-architectural composition introduced by Memphis, while the visible assembly of geometric solids in the Tunnel cabinet by Os & Oos, or the Blend lamp by Ward Wijnant, suggest that movement’s typically non-functionalist approach. The Cleveland seat by Daniel Arsham takes another step in this direction, while the Duo wall shelf by Ilaria Bianchi and the Partera stool by Ewe Studio go so far as to recover the neo-primitive, ancestral overtones. A position of grafting of these two subtexts – metaphysical geometries and material brutalism – can be seen in the vases created from the collaboration between Bloc Studios and Tableau.
The ‘new objectivity’ of these products, vehicles of an aesthetic in which it is no longer possible (or relevant) to tell if we are looking at the virtual representation of a real object or the digital translation into a real piece, reveals the level of sophistication achieved by the fusion of real and virtual, which began some years ago, now blending the substance of material and the ethereal-digital aura of form in a surprisingly perfect harmony.