Poltrona di Proust

Alessandro Mendini

Design: 1978
Production: since 1978
Manufacturer: Studio Alchimia, Milan
Size: 107 x 105 x 94; seat height 35 cms
Material: painted wood, painted upholstery

The “Proust” chair is the most famous design by Italian designer Alessandro Mendini, a highly influential champion of design in the eighties. As designer, journalist, and teacher, he has traced the cultural and substantive issues in the field of design, often working closely with related disciplines such as art, architecture, philosophy, and literature. Two of his basic ideas are essential for an understanding of his work: on the one hand, design today must be aware of its position within a nexus of existing ideas and images; on the other, according to Mendini, it can only be expressed externally and on the surface of things, if it is to convey its messages to a trivial, fast-moving world. In 1978, with the “Proust” chair, Mendini programmatically began a furniture series of socalled “redesigns” in which he reinterpreted the shape and ornamentation of existing designs that were typical of their day. Two years previously, he had begun work on a fabric pattern for Cassina which was to be a reflection on French author Marcel Proust. While researching the upper-middle-class environment associated with Proust, Mendini came across a copy of a chair in the Neo-Baroque style of eighteenthcentury France. Inspired by this discovery, he expanded the fabric project to yield a furniture design. He covered the chair completely with a colorful, handpainted swarm of dots which reproduced an enlarged section of a Pointillist painting by Paul Signac. Impressionism, which attempted to recreate the atmospheric appearance of nature through painting, was highly valued by Proust, and its presence here is a reference to the author and his time. However, by equally painting all parts of the chair, irrespective of their structure and purpose, Mendini succeeds in citing not only Impressionism but also the Baroque, using the infinite as a central motif. Impressionist painting and the Baroque are imitated and trivialized in the pattern of the “Poltrona di Proust,” turning the chair into a flickering vision imbued with meaning. Classic design qualities such as originality, a functional construction, or cost-saving production are thereby fundamentally called into question. The armchair was originally conceived as the only one of its kind, but variations were later manufactured by Mendini’s studio as individual pieces or in limited editions. MSC

Alessandro Mendini

Alessandro Mendini Poltrona di Proust