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Architectural Dialogue

Ettore Sottsass was one of the great architects of the 20th century. This year, in celebration of the centennial of Sottsass’ birth, architect Charles Zana is staging a special exhibit as part of the Venice Biennale that links the work of Sottsass with that of another famed architect: Carlo Scarpa.

Scarpa and Sottsass were born in 1906 and 1907 respectively, and they both came of age during an era when Modernism reigned supreme. Yet, instead of following the dominant minimalist trend, the two Italian architects rejected Modernism and opted instead to create lively and colorful designs.

Zana’s current show, “Dialogue – Ettore Sottsass and Carlo Scarpa,” features over 60 ceramic works created by Sottsass between 1957 and 1970 for Il Sestante Gallery, all of them displayed inside Venice’s Negozio Olivetti building, which was designed by Scarpa in 1957. Seeking to create a dialogue between the two contemporaries, Zana has gathered Sottsass’ ceramic pieces from private collectors and strategically placed them inside Negozio Olivetti, seeking to blur the boundaries between art and design.

Works on display include Sottsass’ Ceramiche di Lava vases, colorful and made of clay, and produced by Bitossi, as well as the Rocchetti and Isolatori, which feature an industrial aesthetic. The Tantra vases, produced in 1969, were made from sandstone and inspired by India. Another piece, the Yantra, which was produced in series in 1970, is also inspired by India, transposing as it does the mandala onto a ceramic object.

The space in which the ceramics are displayed, Negozio Olivetti, is as distinctive as Sottsass’ pieces. Scarpa spent two years conceiving the Piazza San Marco space, focusing on noble materials and abundant transparencies, to create a store for Olivetti. The space was recently renovated and transformed into a museum showcasing an incredible collection of Olivetti typewriters. It’s to Scarpa’s credit that he was able to create such a breathtaking space in a city full of architectural icons.

For this latest exhibit, Zana replaced the Olivetti typewriters with Sottsass’ ceramics, creating a conversation between the ceramics and the space in which they’re displayed. No stranger to such endeavors, Zana has in the recent past staged shows to highlight the works of such great Italian architects and designers as Michele de Lucchi, Andrea Branzi and Alessandro Mendini. The current Venice show, like previous Zana projects, provides a vibrant testament to the wealth, diversity and enduring importance of Italian design.

“Dialogue – Ettore Sottsass and Carlo Scarpa” runs until August 20 at the Negozio Olivetti in Venice.

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Over the course of a 20-year career, Marwan has written for the likes of Fodor's, Businessweek, Monocle, Harvey Nichols, and eHealth Insurance, in a variety of fields that range from lifestyle, travel, design, and art to finance and medicine. He spent 12 years as Editor-in-Chief of Aïshti Magazine (later renamed A Magazine), which he launched, transforming it into the most successful luxury lifestyle publication in the Middle East

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