Alessandro Mendini was an "atomic bomb of fantasy" says Philippe Starck

In this video produced by Dezeen for Triennale Milano and Fondation Cartier, Philippe Starck describes the “genius” of Alessandro Mendini following the opening of Io Sono Un Drago: The True Story of Alessandro Mendini, an exhibition celebrating the designer.

French designer Starck, who has contributed an immersive installation to coincide with the exhibition, emphasised the impact that Mendini has had on his own work, citing his sprawling approach to creativity.

“Mendini is something special for me,” he said in an exclusive video interview with Dezeen. “His brain was an atomic bomb of fantasy, with no limits.”

Starck’s installation accompanies a retrospective exhibition celebrating Mendini at Milan design week, presented by cultural institutions Triennale Milano and Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and curated by Italian architect Fulvio Irace.

Titled Io Sono Un Drago (I am a dragon), the exhibition contains more than 600 pieces by Mendini across his 60-year career. ​​Mendini passed away at the age of 87 in February 2019.

Delfino Sisto Legnani DSL Studio DSL00675 %C2%A9 Triennale MilanoDelfino Sisto Legnani DSL Studio DSL00675 %C2%A9 Triennale Milano
Mendini was a key figure in the radical design movement

The exhibition sets out to explore Mendini’s influence on 20th-century design and architecture, particularly in his multidisciplinary approach to creativity.

“Alessandro Mendini was a key figure of the last century, not just for design but also for art and architecture because he was able to link all these disciplines and blur the lines between them,” explained Michela Alessandrini, curator for Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

“He revolutionised the idea that design is a well-drawn object,” added Triennale Milano curator Nina Bassoli.

“He worked with design as a tool for communicating art, poetry, literature, feelings.” said Bassoli.

Mendini's works on display in exhibitionMendini's works on display in exhibition
The exhibition brings together work from across the realms of art, architecture and design

The title of the exhibition comes from a drawing of a dragon by Mendini, with different parts of its body associated with different professions. Created as an allegorical self-portrait by Mendini, the image was highlighted by the curators as a representation of Mendini’s vast breadth of work across many different practices.

“[When] talking about Mendini it is quite impossible to have a clear distinction between what is art, what is useful, what is object, what is designed,” said Bassoli.

The exhibition is split into six thematic sections and opens with a section titled Identikit, which showcases a series of self-portraits Mendini created over the course of his life.

Through the display of architectural models, furniture pieces, sculptures and artworks, the show explores themes such as Mendini’s architectural practice with the Atelier Mendini workshop, his experiments with postmodernism and radical design, and his research within design theory.

Mendini's optical illusion roomMendini's optical illusion room
Mendini created an optical illusion-like installation towards the end of his career

Three installations created by Mendini towards the end of his life also feature in the exhibition, and engage with the concepts of dreams and nightmares.

Starck’s installation, titled What? A homage to Alessandro Mendini, is located in the Triennale’s Impluvium space, in accompaniment to the main exhibition.

The audiovisual installation was designed to take viewers into a sensory journey through Mendini’s mind.

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The installation uses surreal visual projections and fragmented audio to immerse the viewer. Image by Delfino Sisto Legnani DSL Studio, courtesy of Triennale Milano

“When you arrive in this room you receive Alessandro,” said Starck. “You receive his eyes, his face, his voice. I tried to create what I think is inside his brain.”

“What I learned from Mendini is that the real geniuses are always kind,” he added. “There are no bad geniuses. If they are bad, they are not a genius.”

The installation will be displayed until 13 October and was conceived, designed and directed by Starck.

The exhibition was designed by designer Pierre Charpin.

Io Sono Un Drago is open to the public at the Triennale Milano 13 April to 13 October. What? A homage to Alessandro Mendini runs from the 16 April to 13 October. See our Milan design week 2024 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks that took place throughout the week.

Partnership content

This video was produced by Dezeen for Triennale Milano and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain as part of a partnership. Find out more about Dezeen’s partnership content here.

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