Ettore Sottsass & Shiro Kuramata’s show at Novalis

Curator: Seiki MORI/United Voice

Opening Reception: 16th July 2021, 7 – 9 pm

With talk by curator at 7 pm.

Exhibition on view until 14th August, open from Mon to Sat, 12 – 7 pm

Venue: Novalis Contemporary Art Design Gallery, 197 Hollywood Road, Central 

Novalis Contemporary Art Design Gallery is pleased to present Ettore Sottsass & Shiro Kuramata, curated by Seiko Mori/United Voice, and supported by the Italian Cultural Institute of Hong Kong and the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong. 2021 marks both the 30th anniversary of Shiro Kuramata’s death and the 40th anniversary of the Memphis Group. The exhibition looks at the extraordinary friendship between the Italian design master Ettore Sottsass (1917 – 2007) and the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata (1934 – 1991) during their time within the Memphis Group. Their work will be on view from 17th July to 14th August 2021. An online talk between Novalis founder/ Mr. William Figliola, Former Chairman of Japanese Commercial Environmental Design Association (JCD)/ Mr. Iijima Naoki, and Lead Curator of M+ Museum/ Ms. Ikko Yokoyama will also be hosted in early August.

The encounter between the two was magical. When Kuramata received a letter from Sottsass asking him to join the Memphis Group, he was so elated he said, “I got a love letter from Sottsass!” Their interaction began in 1981 with Memphis Group, a project that had tremendous impact on the design world. At that time doubts were being cast on modern design with its pursuit of function and rationality. Sottsass called on designers all over the world and launched the Memphis Group as a solution. The two shared the same love for design, kindred souls in their belief that there is more to design than mere functional objects. 

Despite the difference in expressive styles, their work conveys the same stance towards pushing design as a ‘culture’ that goes beyond the category of mere ‘civilisation’. To Ettore Sottsass, “if there is a reason for the existence of design, it is that it manages to give – or give anew – instruments and things this sacred charge for which […] men enter the sphere of ritual, meaning life.” Design should not merely be functional objects, but remind people of the joy of living through engaging in sensuality. Shiro Kuramata stated that the “function of design should not be just about whether it is practical or not. Enchantment should also be considered as function.” This enchantment can be found in Kuramata’s experimental materials, in the light captured within ‘star piece’ terrazzo used in ‘Nara’ (1983), where Kuramata substituted traditional marble chips used in terrazzo with coloured glass.

The meaning of ‘design’ and ‘creation’ may change drastically as today’s excessive market economics and materialistic society comes under fire. Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass are trying to get us to ask, “What is an unconstrained free spirit?” and “What is design in the true sense?”

About Ettore Sottsass (1917 – 2007)

Ettore Sottsass was an Italian architect and designer. His work included furniture, jewelry, glass, lighting, home and office objects, as well as many buildings and interiors. He grew up in Turin and graduated in Architecture from the Politecnico di Torino in 1939. In 1947, in Milan, he founded his architecture and industrial design studio, where he began to create work using various media. In 1956, Sottsass went to New York and began to work in George Nelson’s design studio. Back in Italy, he established major collaboration projects with Poltronova (1957) and Olivetti (1958). From the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s he collaborated with Superstudio and Archizoom Associati, within the Radical movement, until the foundation of Memphis Group in 1981, of which he was a founding member. In the mid-’80s, with Sottsass Associati, mainly an architecture studio, he also designed elaborate shops and showrooms, company identities, exhibitions, interiors, Japanese consumer electronics, and furniture of all kinds. Ettore Sottsass was presented numerous international awards, winning the ADI Compasso d’Oro in 1959. His work is on show in the permanent collections of many museums around the world such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Centre G. Pompidou in Paris, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

About Shiro Kuramata (1934 – 1991)

Shiro Kuramata graduated in Architecture from Tokyo Polytechnic in 1953 and then found a job at the furniture company Teikokukizai. Until 1956 Kuramata studied interior design at the Kuwasawa Design Institute in Tokyo. In 1965 he founded his own studio. As an interior designer, he designed furniture and more than 300 bars and restaurants. During the 1970s and ’80s, attracted by the many possibilities offered by new technologies and industrial materials, Kuramata turned to acrylic, glass, aluminum, and steel mesh to create transparent and light objects. Endowed with a playful spirit and a lover of brilliant colors, he joined Ettore Sottsass in the wake of the foundation of the Memphis Group in 1981. Kuramata’s approach to furniture and interior design revolutionized post-war Japanese design. Kuramata re-evaluated the relationship between form and function, imposing his own surreal and minimalist vision on everyday objects. His works can be found in the permanent collections of the Centre G. Pompidou in Paris, the MoMA Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Vitra Design Museum in Basel, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto.

About Novalis Contemporary Art Design Gallery

Novalis Contemporary Art Design is an Italian gallery based in Hong Kong, dedicated to expanding the creative connections between contemporary art and design. Novalis is the celebration of ideas that turn into objects we are madly in love with, to know the culture of design as a unique moment of the time and the place we live in. The gallery specialises in showcasing a large number of objects designed by Memphis Group, the famous Italian design movement born in 1981 and led by Ettore Sottsass. The group created furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glasses by prestigious designers and architects as Ettore Sottsass, Michele de Lucchi, Michael Graves, George J. Sowden, Marco Zanini, and many others. Aside from design, Novalis represents talented local and international photographers, such as Costanza Gastaldi, Margot Errante, Valentina Loffredo, Chan Dick, and Samantha Li. 

Novalis is a mix between an art gallery and a cultural centre, designed to investigate and disseminate the connections between art, design, architecture, and photography, with specific research into the avant-garde and contemporary. Novalis has had the pleasure to participate in art and design loans, and events in major museums around the world.

Facebook, Instagram: @novaliscontemporaryartdesign

About the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong

The Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong (ICI), currently directed by Mr. Stefano Fossati, has been active since 2011 as the official Italian governmental body dedicated to the promotion of Italian language and culture in Hong Kong and Macao through the organization of cultural events. Alongside with the Italian Cultural Institutes in Beijing and Shanghai it is one of the three cultural agencies of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China.

Central to ICI’s mission is a constant effort to encourage the understanding and enjoyment of Italian culture by organizing and promoting events that focus on Italian music, dance, cinema, theatre, architecture, literature, and philosophy in collaboration with the most prominent local academic and cultural institutions. ICI also focuses on the development of academic exchanges, the organization and support of visual arts exhibitions, and the promotion of Italian studies.

About the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong, Public Relations and Cultural Affairs Division

Our mission is to promote a better understanding of Japan and Japanese culture in Hong Kong, and to enhance academic and cultural relations between Japan and Hong Kong. The following is the outline of services we provide: general information and reference services on Japan, coordination of exchange programmes and scholarships, and hosting/sponsoring of various cultural events and activities.


(Left) Ettore SottsassCarlton, 1981. Room divider in wood and plastic laminate. W190 x D40 x H196 cm

(Right) Shiro KuramataNikko, 1982. Drawers on metal structure, in wood and painted finish. H 170 cm

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