The Wizard of Oz and the lost identity
A memory of Alessandro Mendini
alessandro mendini
Ph. © Danilo Scarpati
alessandro mendini
Ph. © Danilo Scarpati
Alessandro Mendini (1931-2019) wrote: “Design is painting (…) Our research in the field of architecture is figurative; it belongs to the world of decorative architecture. It means that the pictorial gesture precedes the spatial gesture. In this way, our architecture doesn’t fit into the more ‘institutional’ trend of the history of this discipline, but belongs to the field of expressionist phenomena. Our main aesthetic sources come from historical Avant-garde (…), but from the Avant-garde we only take the magical, coloristic aspect — then the pictorial component.”

Mendini was the only one to state, throughout his career, that what other people considered to be his ‘design’ wasn’t design at all, but an artistic-pictorial expression. He has always worked as a decorative artist, without being ashamed of it, but on the contrary showing a rigorous personal integrity and a vivid awareness of his own professional identity.
alessandro mendini
The ’magical’ palace Do ut Do, drawn by Mendini in 2016.

2016 © Alessandro Mendini
What’s wrong with wanting to be a decorator instead of a designer? Nothing. Decoration isn’t trivial in itself. It becomes so if it’s considered an expression of design instead of an expression of art.

All those who claimed that Mendini was a designer, or who took it for granted without even wondering if this was the case, contributed to a misleading conception of design that, confused with decorative art, gradually lost its identity and, above all, that particularly relevant identity that design had found in Italy after World War II.
alessandro mendini
Scale model for a pavillion at the Seoul Design Fair, 2010.

Ph. © Roberto Gennari Feslikenian
alessandro mendini
Scale model for the Tower of Paradise of Hiroshima, Japan, 1989.

Ph. © Roberto Gennari Feslikenian
alessandro mendini
Scale model for a pavillion at the Seoul Design Fair, 2010.

Ph. © Roberto Gennari Feslikenian
alessandro mendini
Scale model for the Tower of Paradise of Hiroshima, Japan, 1989.

Ph. © Roberto Gennari Feslikenian
Not understanding the difference between design and decorative art has gradually degraded both disciplines, which must certainly coexist, but not be confused to the point that they lose their identity and become indistinguishable from one another.

To confuse the design with Mendini and Mendini with the design means not to understand that the objects he has created are not the result of design, but the expression of fantasy — dreamlike fragments of an enchanted wonderland.

alessandro mendini
A ‘design’ of Mendini. Basically, almost a drawing of R.O. Blechman.

2018 © Alessandro Mendini
alessandro mendini
Ph. © Carlo Lavatori
Design is no longer design. We no longer know what it is. And Mendini, who wasn’t a designer and never wanted to be one, has become a designer in spite of himself.

The last time I saw him in person was in 2015 at the honorary degree of Italo Lupi. We were sitting close together having a good laugh. Knowing that he was not, I never appreciated Mendini as a designer. But I esteemed and respected him as a man of fantasy. Once and for all, Mendini wasn’t a designer. Viva Mendini, the Wizard of Oz!
© Nicola-Matteo Munari

Originally written, April 2018
Last review, October 2019