Since the early 1970s, the Italian home-accessories manufacturer Alessi has been at the forefront of contemporary design, producing classics such as Ettore Sottsass’s condiment set, Michael Graves’s bird-whistle kettle, and Philippe Starck’s infamous three-legged Juicy Salif lemon squeezer. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is currently celebrating the 90-year-old company with an exhibition, Alessi: Ethical and Radical, which runs through April 10.
Alberto Alessi, the grandson of the company’s founder, has worked with hundreds of leading designers in the past 40 years. Today, he continues to collaborate with everyone from Jasper Morrison to the Campana brothers, offering them highly innovative technical support and near absolute creative freedom. “I think we’re at a pivotal moment in Alberto’s tenure at the firm,” says Kathryn Hiesinger, curator of European decorative arts at the museum. “He is moving away from the more radical designs he championed for so long and committing himself to a ‘responsible’ program of attention to reuse, low energy consumption, and simplicity of production and materials. This is an opportunity to celebrate his past successes and glimpse the future direction of the company.”
The 150-object exhibition suggests some of these new directions with reeditions of designs from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s by Carlo Alessi—perfect for our new era of austerity. “The normalcy of these household objects has always struck me,” Alberto says of his father’s work. “They weren’t part of a culture of glossy designer products but were heavily influenced by an almost obsessive attention to function, proper manufacturing methods, and production costs.”