Enzo Mari portrait building protptypes

Enzo Mari

Italian artist and designer

“Form is everything and design is death”

Enzo Mari

Enzo Mari (born in April 27, 1932, in Novara, Italy) is a noted Italian post-Modernist artist, writer, and product and furniture designer who incorporates ideas of the arts and crafts practices and of communism as an essential part of his design practice and philosophy opposing the idea that good design is a privilege for the wealthy.


Enzo Mari’s Formal Education And Early Influences


Mari studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, Italy, from 1952 to 1956 and draws inspiration from the idealism of the arts and crafts movement. In the 1950s, he participated in the avant-garde design movements and joined the Kinetic Art group. In this group, he met artist and designer Bruno Munari, whose influence can be seen in Enzo’s carved wooden puzzle work 16 Animals, produced by Danese in 1957.

In the 1960s, Enzo published a series of books, including the acclaimed The Apple and the Butterfly (1969), a book without text in which simple yet striking graphic-style illustrations depict the story of a caterpillar and an apple and the cycle of life. From 1963 to 1966, he taught at the Humanitarian School of Milan, where he did extensive research in the areas of theory of design, graphics, and fittings, for which he was awarded a Compasso d’Oro in 1967.


Enzo Mari Autoprogettazione table product picture with light
Enzo Mari Autoprogettazione table (1974). Photo: Casati Gallery

Enzo Mari’s Furniture Designs And Autoprogettazione


During the 1970s, Enzo Mari created numerous furniture designs and projects. Among these are the Elisa chair and Box chair (1971), and the Sof Sof chair (1972) for Driade; the Delfina chair for Robots (1974); and the Sumatra filing system for Danese (1976). Enzo Mari collaborated with Artemide, AlessiZanotta, Driade, and Muji, among other design and furniture manufacturers.

Of all of the numerous design projects along Mari’s career, Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione (Proposal for a Self-Design) occupies a special place due to its ability to deliver a message through the creation of an object. In 1974, he published the book Autoprogettazione with instructions on how to build easy-to-assemble/do-it-yourslef furniture using as raw material only rough boards and nails. In the book, Enzo Mari uses the term Autoprogettazione as a concept to bring awareness of the process of “making” and design, and instructs the reader to build practical and useful furniture pieces through very simple techniques; hoping that the benefits drawn from this process of “making” would be more valuable than the object being made. That same year, in 1974, Enzo Mari and Simon (Dino) Gavina collaborated in the project Metamobile, which focused on producing a small number of tables, chairs and beds using the Autoprogettazione designs at Simon Gavina’s plant in Calcinelli di Fano. These Autoprogettazione designs made through the Metamobile project were also made using simple pine wood boards, but were to be assembled with screws, washers and nuts–as opposed to using nails as was prescribed in the do-it-your-self instructions published in the Autoprogettazione book.


Enzo Mari Aquatic animals jigsaw puzzle - image of the completed puzzle.
Aquatic animals jigsaw puzzle. Designed by Enzo Mari (1974). Photo: Casati Gallery

Collaboration With Design Studio Danese Milano


In late 1957, shortly after the launch of the design studio Danese Milano, led by Bruno Danese and his wife Jacqueline Vodoz, Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, and Franco Meneguzzo started a fruitful and long collaboration with the studio. The main focus of the studio was to create small design objects and furnishing accessories, to standardized the production process, and to provide innovative games and books for children—reflected in creations such as Mari’s 16 Animals children’s puzzle in 1957.

In 1958, Enzo Mari designed for Danese the celebrated Putrella trays, produced by using an industrial semi-finished product as raw material to be modified by skilled craftsmanship, through the welds were made by workers who had nothing to do with traditional artisan crafts. Other important Enzo Mari product designs for Danese were the Arran trays (1960), Formosa wall calendar (1963), Trinidad, Atoll fruit bowls (1965), melamine Java container (1965 and 1968), Pago-Pago reversible vase (1969), Tongareva bowl (1969), carafes (1969), Salt shaker and pepper grinders (1972), and Paro and Ovio glasses (1983).


Design Awards and Academic Involvement


From 1976 to 1979, Enzo Mari was president of the Associazione per il Disegno Industriale  (ADI) and was awarded the Compasso d’Oro in 1979 for the second time for his collaboration in the design of the Delfina chair. During his lifetime, he has been awarded the Compasso d’Oro four times and has taught at University of Parma (Parma), the Accademia Carrara (Carrara), Politecnico di Milano, ISIA (Florence), the Hochschule der Künste (Berlin), and the Hochschule für angewandte Kunst in Vienna.


Enzo Mari’s Important Solo And Group Exhibitions


In 1972, Mari participated in the exhibition “Italy—The New Domestic Landscape” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. This exhibition included the design objects of many of the important Italian designers of the time, such as Vico MagistrettiEttore Sottsass, Gaetano Pesce, Mario Bellini, and Paolo Lomazzi. In this exhibition, Mari’s work was represented by the Pago-Pago reversible vase (1969), manufactured by Danese. This molded ABS vase could be used straight or upside down, changing its aesthetic appearance.

In 1983, Enzo Mari had an important solo exhibition at the Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione at the University of Parma, for which he donated 8,500 designs and drawings from his archive. His art and design objects are included in the collections of several contemporary art museums, such as MoMA (New York), the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, and the Triennale di Milano Museum. He had two retrospective shows in Turin, Italy, one named “Art and Design,” which featured about 250 examples of Mari’s work in design and art, and an important exhibit of his work in Adhocracy at the first Istanbul Design Biennial in October 2012.


For more information on Enzo Mari, visit the following:
Enzo Mari at Magisdesign

Enzo Mari: A rebel with an obsession for form. New York Tims

Last updated: September 16, 2020

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