When Pop met PoMo

By  | 

MODERN contributor Glenn Adamson discusses Space Oddities: Bowie Sottsass Memphis, a new exhibition he curated at the Modernism Museum in Mount Dora, Florida.

Madras dining table by Nathalie Du Pasquier, 1986.

Sometimes as a curator, projects come from a long way off. That happened for me when I co-curated the exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion at the V&A. Four years in the making, it was a comprehensive look at the radical design movement of the 1970s and ‘80s.

Casablanca cabinet by Ettore Sottsass, 1981.

Other times, a project happens so quickly that you hardly know what hit you. This has been the case with a new show I’ve guest curated, which in a sense picks up where Postmodernism left off. Hosted at the Modernism Museum in Mount Dora, Florida—a beautiful little town near Orlando—the show is entitled Space Oddities in tribute to David Bowie, the great pop star, performer and all-round genius. It includes 27 objects he owned, all of which were designed by the Memphis group.

David Bowie in 1976. Photo by John Robert Rowlands.

The Bowie works, acquired for a private collection at Sotheby’s in November 2016, are just the beginning. They form the centerpiece of a near-comprehensive exhibition of Memphis designs, totaling 75 in all. The familiar works are all here: the Casablanca and Carlton shelving units, by the group’s fearless leader Ettore Sottsass; Peter Shire’s Bel Air chair, with its blissed out California vibe; Martine Bedin’s adorable lamp on wheels, Super; and Michael Graves’ neo-Deco Plaza vanity. There are also some rarities that I previously knew only from the early Memphis catalogues, among them Aldo Cibic’s neo-Constructivist objects and Nathalie du Pasquier’s boldly patterned ceramics and textiles. Capping it all off are a handful of breathtakingly beautiful designs by the Japanese master Shiro Kuramata.

Miss Blanche chair by Shiro Kuramata, 1988.

With so much material to choose from, we were able to create a show that not only sets Bowie’s collection in context, but also provides in-depth coverage of the many personalities that made Memphis such a phenomenon. It all came together at lightning speed, and for this material, what could be more appropriate?

Belvedere console by Aldo Cibic, 1982.

Space Oddities: Bowie Sottsass Memphis opens at the Modernism Museum in Mount Dora, Florida, on October 27, 2017. modernismmuseum.org