Exhibition Enzo Mari

10 Unmissable Highlights from #EnzoMariExhibition

From Mari’s early industrial designs and children’s games to his later conceptual installations... here’s 10 unmissable highlights from the 60-year spanning #EnzoMariExhibition.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Containers from the Putrella (‘Girder’) series

One of Mari’s earliest collaborations with the manufacturer Danese Milano, the Putrella series resulted from transforming units of construction into objects of domestic use, with the slightest interventions. For example, an I-beam whose ends are bent upwards, becomes a tray. Of this object, Mari said it was ’the Allegory of design”, for the way it celebrates the aesthetic qualities of industrial design.

‘16 Animals’ interlocking game, 1959

An iconic children’s game, this wooden puzzle is composed of the silhouettes of sixteen animals, cut in one continuous line from a single piece of wood. Originally designed for his own children, Mari’s ’16 Animals’ was then put in production and proved popular for generations.

Formosa, 1963 and Timor, 1966 calendars

Formosa and Timor are pared-back, perpetual calendars that can be set by selecting the date and month from a deck of plastic cards, or from a fan or plastic strips, respectively. Infinitely reusable, they eliminate the need to change calendars at the end of every year and invite a moment of participation each day.

‘The Nature Series’ prints

With his brother Elio, Mari designed these silk-screen prints by turning subjects from ‘The fable game’ – another of his children’s games – into high-quality, low-cost prints. The subjects’ form was the result of countless investigations and preparatory research, as Mari sought not ‘an apple, but rather the apple. It must be the concept of the apple’.

Java containers

How can good design de-alienate production line workers? Mari sought to address this question throughout his whole career. Java is one of the most successful examples of how the Italian designer streamlined designs – in this case, by simplifying the joint of a container – to relieve workers of the burden of repetitive and alienating gestures. As with many other of Mari’s designs for Danese, it was named after an island to save time on inventing titles for his work.

Autoprogettazione (‘Self-design’) project

Perhaps Mari’s most renowned project, albeit at times the most misunderstood, is ‘Proposal for a self-design'. It was conceived in 1973 as a set of instructions for the self-design of nineteen models of furniture comprising only wooden boards and nails, using simple carpentry techniques. Mari published them as a catalogue, available to anyone for the price of postage. Years on, he concluded that ‘only 1% understood what the project was about’, as the majority had praised him for the models’ rustic aesthetic. Nonetheless, it remains to this day one of the most radical, discussed and celebrated proposals ever put forward by a designer.

Ecolo, 1992

Ecolo was a project, a prototype, a demonstration and much more. Comprising an instruction booklet on how to transform used plastic bottles into vases, with a branded tag to attach to them, the project was demonstrated in Alessi stores across Europe. It drew attention to the environmental impact of over-production and consumption, all the while serving as a critique to the commodification of design.

‘Allegory of dignity’ installation, 1988

A special highlight of this exhibition, ‘Allegory of dignity’ invites visitors to kneel in front of a mirror. In the context of Mari’s work, it suggests that when all dominant ideologies have failed, our own reflections, or consciousness, are what we are left with and what we must face. Mari had chosen it as one of the works to close his 2008 retrospective in Turin, upon which this exhibition is based.

‘The intellectual work: sixty paperweights’ installation, 2010

A personal Wunderkammer of Mari’s, this installation displays sixty paperweights he collected over the course of his lifetime, placed atop reams of paper reproducing manuscripts from the most illustrious thinkers, scientists, musicians. Attempting to anchor ideas before they disappear, these paperweights suggest Mari’s desire to preserve his own archive for posterity.

‘Enzo’s zoo’ by Nanda Vigo, 2020

Artist, designer and architect Nanda Vigo was a master of light and space. As a tribute to Mari for his 2020 retrospective at Triennale Milano, she turned figures from his ‘16 animals’ and later ‘16 fish’ puzzles into a vibrant installation whose lights turn on and off in a playful sequence.

The exhibition

Book now: Opens 29 March 2024

Enzo Mari

This major exhibition will celebrate the life and work of one of the greatest Italian designers of the 20th century, Enzo Mari, whose designs have inspired generations of creatives around the world.

Background image; The Nature Series. No. 1: La Mela (the apple) with Elio Mari. Photo Danese Milano