Christoph Radl, curator of the Memphis Again exhibition at the Triennale, told us about the golden years of Italian design

Christoph Radl doesn't need a big introduction. Trained as a graphic designer, he worked for years alongside Ettore Sottsass, drawing the image of Memphis.

With his Italian Communication agency and with R.A.D.L. & amp; has worked for the major fashion and design brands from Armani to Ferragamo, Pucci and Trussardi, from Alessi to Cassina, Magis, Sony, Zanotta, and carried out editorial initiatives with galleries and foundations: from Palazzo Grassi to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, from the Guggenheim in Bilbao to the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation in Turin. Art director of INTERNI for almost twenty years and still an active collaborator, he dedicated some of his time to us to tell us about Memphis according to his insider's gaze on the occasion of the inauguration of the Memphis Again exhibition, which he curated at the Triennale.


Christoph Radl, when and how did the idea of Memphis Again come about?

The idea was in the air, but when it materialized it was already the end of February. On balance, in eight weeks we have put together a complete exhibition project. There are about two hundred pieces: they consistently represent the first or six collections of Memphis. We have given up on displaying only the ceiling lamps and some ceramics.

The basic idea was to avoid in every way a historicizing or celebratory exhibition. The intent was different: we wanted to clearly show what Memphis was, its freedom and the choice to creatively provoke and challenge the status quo.

The layout recalls the clubbing atmosphere of the Eighties…

We used two metaphors to describe the atmosphere of those years. clubbing is the first and describes a phenomenon born at that time and which still characterizes the era. The second metaphor is that of the fashion show, because there is a very clear analogy that explains the attitude of Memphis.

We dress for functional, practical reasons, to protect ourselves. But we also dress to express an aspect of our personality, to change, to play with the emotional part. We dress to communicate, not to fulfill a function. That's what Memphis was looking for. A space in which to express the cheerful, emotional, completely free component of the project. The only constraint was that the pieces were reproducible serially.

What was Milan like in those years?

I arrived in Milan in 1977. It was a dark, frightened city, full of clashes. It could happen that you walk down the street and find yourself in the middle of a demonstration or the launch of tear gas. In the evening everything was closed and the restaurants were entered after ringing the bell. Then suddenly, in the early eighties, everything changed. There was an explosion of enthusiasm, will to live and creativity . It didn't last long: once you have accumulated wealth, you only think about conserving it and it becomes boring . After all, these are normal historical cycles.

Is there any analogy between the design of then and the design of today?

The designer today have no freedom. The project brief starts from commercial reasons. The target, the saleability of a product. The Memphis experience has left deep traces in the design culture and companies are more open. But I don't see anything that reminds me of the liveliness of Memphis. Perhaps today the Memphis pieces serve as a reminder that rules can be broken. And that you can find support when it happens: without the help of Ernesto Gismondi and the 40 million lire he gave us for the first collection, Memphis would never have been born.