Sottsass Collaboration Highlights Venini’s History of Radical Glass Making

The radical vision of Ettore Sottsass is on show up to October at the Met in New York, and in the fantastical lamps he created for Venini.

by Jerome Gomez

The Ratrih (left) and the Kiritam are just some of the light fixtures Sotsass created for Venini, the 95-year old italian glass-making company.

The Italian brand Venini, with its 95 years of history in luxury glass making, has always prided itself by eschewing the tried and traditional, and championing the avant garde. When its original owners went their separate ways in the mid-1920s, half of the original duo, Paolo Venini went on ahead and signed the era’s most important architects and designers, among them Tomaso Buzzi, Carlo Scarpa, and many years later, Gio Ponti and Fulvio Bianconi. This early resolve to work only with the forward-thinkers continued on for decades. Hence, Venini’s collaboration with the great Ettore Sottsass, the Italian architect and designer, a known radical when it comes to design, who is currently having a moment. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is hosting an ongoing exhibition of his works, encompassing the wide range of his creations—from glasswork to photography, architectural drawings to ceramics—in a career that spans six decades (Sottsass died in 2007).

      Sottsass created vases, table lamps, and chandeliers for Venini (carried locally by Furnitalia), and in 1993 and 1994, the glassware titan issued a series of the architect’s lamps created with the company’s master glass-makers. Looking like space-age characters from a galaxy far away, they emanate, more than light, a kind of humor and fantasy, a world far from the ordinary. Which veritably echoes a Sottsass quote about working with glass and the creation of, beyond tangible objects, feelings: “To imagine things in glass, one feels a very special emotion; one imagines light and colors that one cannot touch, and then—all of a sudden, the light and the colors are there and yet they still cannot be touched, they don’t have weight, they don’t have temperature, they continue to live in
our fantasies.”