21st Century and Contemporary Italian Modern Vases
Late 20th Century Italian Vases
Memphis Group for sale on 1stDibs
To many people, postmodern design is synonymous with the Memphis Group. This Italian collaborative created the most radical and attention-getting designs of the period, upending most of the accepted standards of how furniture should look.
The Memphis story begins in 1980, when Ettore Sottsass, then a beacon of Italian postmodernism, tapped a coterie of younger designers to develop a collection for the Milan Furniture Fair the next year, determined that all the new furniture they were then seeing was boring. Their mission: Boldly reject the stark minimalism of the 1970s and shatter the rules of form and function. (Sottsass’s Ultrafragola mirror, designed in 1970, embodied many of what would become the collective’s postmodern ideals.)
The group decided to design, produce and market their own collection, one that wouldn’t be restricted by concerns like functionality and so-called good taste. Its debut, at Milan’s 1981 Salone del Mobile, drew thousands of viewers and caused a major stir in design circles.
So as a record of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile” played on repeat, they took their name from the song, devised their marketing strategy and plotted the postmodern look that would come to define the decade of excess — primary colors, blown-up proportions, playful nods to Art Deco and Pop art. A high-low mix of materials also helped define Memphis, as evidenced by Javier Mariscal’s pastel serving trays, which feature laminate veneer — a material previously used only in kitchens — as well as Shiro Kuramata’s Nara and Kyoto tables made from colored glass-infused terrazzo.
An image of Sottsass posing with his collaborators in a conversation pit shaped like a boxing ring appeared in magazines all over the world, and Karl Lagerfield furnished his Monte Carlo penthouse entirely in Memphis furniture. Meanwhile, members like Andrea Branzi, Aldo Cibic, Michele de Lucchi, Nathalie du Pasquier, Kuramata, Paola Navone, Peter Shire, George Sowden, Sottsass and his wife, journalist Barbara Radice, went on to enjoy fruitful careers.
Some people think of the Milan-based collective as the design equivalent to Patrick Nagel’s kitschy screenprints, but for others Memphis represents what made the early 1980s so great: freedom of expression, dizzying patterns and off-the-wall colors.
Eventually, the Reagan era gave way to cool 1990s minimalism, and Memphis fell out of fashion. Sottsass left the group in 1985, and by 1987, it had disbanded. Yet decades later, Memphis is back and can be traced to today’s most exciting designers.
“As someone who was born in the 1980s, Memphis at times feels like the grown-up, artsy version of the toys I used to play with,” says Shaun Kasperbauer, cofounder of the Brooklyn studio Souda. “It feels a little nostalgic, but at the same time it seems like an aesthetic that’s perfectly suited to an internet age — loud, colorful and utilizing forms that are graphic and often a little unexpected.”
Finding the Right Vases for You
Whether it’s a Chinese Han dynasty glazed ceramic wine vessel, a work of Murano glass or a hand-painted Scandinavian modern stoneware piece, a fine vase brings a piece of history into your space as much as it adds a sophisticated dynamic.
Like sculptures or paintings, vases are considered works of fine art. Once offered as tributes to ancient rulers, vases continue to be gifted to heads of state today. Over time, decorative porcelain vases have become family heirlooms to be displayed prominently in our homes — loved pieces treasured from generation to generation.
The functional value of vases is well known. They were traditionally utilized as vessels for carrying dry goods or liquids, so some have handles and feature an opening at the top (where they flare back out). While artists have explored wildly sculptural alternatives over time, the most conventional vase shape is characterized by a bulbous base and a body with shoulders where the form curves inward.
Owing to their intrinsic functionality, vases are quite possibly versatile in ways few other art forms can match. They’re typically taller than they are wide. Some have a neck that offers height and is ideal for the stems of cut flowers. To pair with your mid-century modern decor, the right vase will be an elegant receptacle for leafy snake plants on your teak dining table, or, in the case of welcoming guests on your doorstep, a large ceramic floor vase for long tree branches or sticks — perhaps one crafted in the Art Nouveau style — works wonders.
Interior designers include vases of every type, size and style in their projects — be the canvas indoors or outdoors — often introducing a splash of color and a range of textures to an entryway or merely calling attention to nature’s asymmetries by bringing more organically shaped decorative objects into a home.