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Mezzadro Stool: Part One

Our guest blogger today is Tom Vriesman, Board President of the Design Arts Society at the IMA.

Image courtesy of Zanotta Design.

Image courtesy of Zanotta Design.

Two members of the Design Arts Society at the IMA explore different facets of a recently acquired work in the IMA’s collection. Here is Part One:  

Through the doors of Piazza Castello, 27 lay the magical wonderland that is the studio of Achille Castiglioni (1918-2002).  It is here that the maestro designed his oeuvre that would become the hallmark of the Italian modernist movement of the 1950s. In April of 2011, I had the distinct pleasure to visit the studio and be escorted through by Achille’s daughter and wife.  His zest for life and child-like fascination with found objects is in exuberant abundance…it’s as if he has just stepped out for an espresso and gelato only to return to continue working on  and tinkering with a new idea with his brothers Livio (1911-1979) and Pier Giacomo (1913-1968).

Amongst the myriad of prototypes, drawings, and ephemera cluttering the space was an object that has intrigued me since the day I first experienced it, the Mezzadro stool designed in 1957 by Achille and Pier Giacomo and put into production by Zanotta in 1970.  Constructed of a mass-produced tractor seat, enameled and chrome-plated steel and a beech wood foot rest, the stool, translated “sharecropper,” is a direct descendant of Marcel Duchamp’s notion of the “ready-made.”  The brothers incorporated a well-known and perhaps “invisible” archetypal element because of its common place presence, here the tractor seat, and gave it new life by placing it in an expressively compelling context.  In other words, form follows emotion and concept in addition to function.

As the Italian post-World War II economy began to strengthen, it was this conceptual groundwork that the Castiglioni brothers reveled in. The stool’s first prototype was introduced at the 1954 X. Milan Triennial in the industrial design section entitled “Art and Production.” Off the shelf items (a tractor seat and bicycle wing nut) were combined with a flat bar of steel to provide a springy seating experience similar to that of a typical tractor riding through a bumpy field. The final element, the beech foot rest, provides stability.  These mere four pieces make up the essence of a seating solution.  Nothing extraneous in the minds of the brothers was necessary to add meaning or additional functionality to their archetypal form.  Mezzadro in its final form was presented at “Colori e forme nella casa d’oggi” at Villa Olmo in Como, Italy in 1957.  It wasn’t until thirteen years later in 1970 that the stool was introduced at the Milan furniture fair by Zanotta because of its far-reaching concept and form.

Castiglioni’s “sharecropper” is truly an icon of mid-century Italian industrial design.  Its whimsicality, Dadaist references and elemental assembly of found objects embodies the studio’s timeless design philosophy, impacting every object that the brothers developed.  MAGNIFICO!

Filed under: Design, The Collection

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