In our Flos sale tomorrow, we’re selling some of the world’s most iconic lights. Tiffany Jow explores the mind of the man behind them.
Castiglioni with the chandelier Taraxacum 88, designed 1988 for Flos.
“There has to be irony in both design and in the objects,” industrial designer Achille Castiglioni once said. “I see around me a professional disease of taking everything too seriously. One of my secrets is to joke all the time.” The witty Milan-born talent, who is often deemed one of the most important designers of the 20th century, expressed his sense of the absurd by using familiar objects in unexpected contexts, such as placing a tractor seat atop a stool or use a car reflector as a light. The result was stunning minimalist creations that exhibit an ironic sense of humor, technical skill, and thoughtful, practical forms.
Mezzadro, designed 1957 for Zanotti.
Though he passed away in 2002, his distinctive work lives on. Today, we celebrate Castiglioni’s purist yet playful style with a collection of pieces he’s best known for: the pendants and lamps for famed Italian lighting outfit FLOS. There’s his curious Aoy lamp, a hand-blown glass vessel with a foot-wide opening at its bottom for a cat to crawl inside, and the skinny, streetlight-inspired Arco floor lamp. He modeled his Brera S pendant after an ostrich egg, made his Frisbi pendant look like a flying saucer, and took note from George Nelson’s wire-framed, resin-covered lights to make his Gatto table lamp, where a cocoon-like membrane serves as its diffuser.
Brera, designed 1962 for FLOS by Achille Castiglioni.
Many of these lights were designed with Castiglioni’s elder brother, Pier Giacomo, with whom he worked (alongside his other sibling, Livio) after graduating from Politecnico di Milano in 1944. Three years later, he joined the organizing committee of the Milan Triennale, and helped establish the esteemed Compasso d’Oro award (he was honored with eight himself) and the Italian Association of Industrial Design.
Taraxacum, designed 1960 for FLOS by Achille Castiglioni.
Near the end of his long career, as a professor at his alma mater, one of his students was Paola Antonelli, who’s now MoMA’s senior design curator. She fondly remembers him arriving to class each day with what she describes as “a large Mary Poppins-like black bag from which he would extract and line up on the table that day’s chosen pieces from his stupendous collection of found objects: toys made from beer cans, odd eyeglasses, wooden stools from Aspen, small suction cups strong enough to lift a table. These were the most effective tools of design instruction.” Castiglioni’s genius stemmed from his focus on things that so many designers are quick to overlook: the everyday things right in front of us. And his sense of humor made these objects live forever.
If you want to see more stunning Castiglioni lamps, check out our Flos sale.
All images courtesy Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni.