Enzo Mari portrait building protptypes

Enzo Mari

Italian artist and designer

“Form is everything and design is death”

Enzo Mari

Enzo Mari (born April 27, 1932, in Novara, Italy–died October 19, 2020) was a noted Italian post-Modernist artist, writer, and product and furniture designer who incorporated 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 enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan in 1952, where he studied painting, sculpture and stage design and where he found inspiration from the idealism of the arts and crafts movement. In 1956, the same year he graduated, he participated in the avant-garde design movements and joined the Kinetic Art group “Arte Programmata.” It is in this group that Mari met artist and designer Bruno Munari, whose influence can be seen in one of his earliest designs, the carved wooden puzzle work 16 Animals, produced by Danese in 1957.

In the 1960s, Enzo Mari 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


Affordability was a very important objective for Mari. He always aimed at creating design objects that were intuitive, elegant, functional, low cost and that would make a personal connection with their users. During his design process, Mari would become intimately involved with the artisans and manufacturers to ensure that his objectives of functionality, quality, and cost of his designs were met. In spite of his high standards, during his career Mari built strong collaboration with numerous design shops  and furniture manufacturers of the time such as Artemide, AlessiZanotta, Driade, and Muji.

Enzo Mari created numerous furniture designs and projects throughout his entire career. Among these are the Elisa chair and Box chair (1971), and the Sof Sof chair (1972) for Driade; the Delfina chair (1974) for Robots, winner of the Compasso d’Oro that same year; the Sumatra filing system for Danese (1976); the Tonietta chair (1985) for Zanotta, winner of the 1987 Compasso d’Oro; the Legato table (20o1) for Dirate, winner of the Compasso d’Oro that same year.

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, 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 Animali” or “16 Animals” children’s puzzle in 1957.

One of the most important works that came from the collaboration with Danese was Mari’s 16 Animals puzzle. Each puzzle was made of a rectangular oak wood block in which the shapes of the animals within it were formed with one continuous cut; and an idea that came to Enzo Mari as he was designing toys for his own children based on his research on Scandinavian traditional toy making techniques.

Enzo Mari - Putrella - tray manufactured by Danese - Enzo Mari article picture
Enzo Mari Putrella tray manufactured by Danese

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). During his lifetime, he was  awarded the Compasso d’Oro four times, the first in 1967 for his research into projects and installations, and then in 1974 for the Delfina chair, in 1985 for the Tonietta chair, and in 2001 for the Legato Table.

During his career Enzo Mari 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. In 2008, Mari curated the retrospective exhibition “Art and Design” at GAM, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, in Turin, which featured 250 of his works spanning his more than 5o-year career as a designer and artist. In 2012, the Istanbul Design Biennial organized “Adhocracy,” a solo exhibition of his works.


In October 17, 2020, La Triennale de Milano opened a retrospective exhibition Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli. This has been the most extensive retrospective exhibition of the work of Enzo Mari, covering over more than 60 years of his contribution to design, art and design theory. The exhibition also included works from contemporary artists and designers such as Nanda Vigo, Tacita Dean, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Danh Vō. Two days after this exhibition, Mari died on October 19, 2020, at the age of 88, in Milan, Italy, due to health complications caused by the global pandemic COVID-19.

Enzo Mari’s 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, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Triennale di Milano Museum.

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: October 27, 2020

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