Inside the Collection

Hartmut Esslinger lets rip on design

Hartmut Esslinger presents at MAAS
Hartmut Esslinger presents at MAAS

While visiting Sydney, German born American design luminary and provocateur Hartmut Esslinger set aside time to visit the Museum for the second time in six months and present his views on design. Convergent design and originality have long underpinned Hartmut’s practice since his early days as founder of Frogdesign. Hartmut had dropped in late last year after the opening of the INTERFACE exhibition and had promised to return. This time I had time to chat to him about the objects and designers represented in the exhibition.

Hartmut Esslinger (right) and curator Campbell Bickerstaff in the INTERFACE exhibition.
Hartmut Esslinger (right) and curator Campbell Bickerstaff in the INTERFACE exhibition.

Hartmut’s grasp of design and intimate knowledge of the designers represented in the exhibition helped to clear up some grey areas. Placing his thumb over Dieter Rams name on the label next to the Braun SK55, there was no doubt that credit clearly went Hans Gugelot (and a team of students from the nearby Ulm Hfg school of design). Hartmut admitted that even his friend Dieter is embarrassed by the level of recognition he receives to the neglect of other designers involved with Braun.

Braun SK55 Phonosuper radio & record player combination design by Hans Gugelot (with the assistance of students from the Hfg school of design, Ulm), 1963, West Germany, MAAS collection, 85/2326
Braun SK55 Phonosuper radio & record player combination design by Hans Gugelot (with the assistance of students from the Hfg school of design, Ulm), 1963, West Germany, MAAS collection, 85/2326

Hartmut revealed some personal favourites from Olivetti included in the exhibition. The one that really stood out was Marcello Nizzoli’s lettera 22 typewriter, well recognised in its time. It’s an object that is revered and resides in Museum collections internationally. Yet somehow an accolade from Hartmut – “a masterpiece” – had more weight than anything I had read or researched for this piece. Hartmut continued to admire it while relating to me that he had written to the Olivetti archives to obtain copies of Nizzoli’s conceptual sketches for its design.

 

Olivetti lettera 22 (left), designed by Marcello Nizzoli, 1950, MAAS collection, 2013/118/1 and Olivetti Valentine (right), Ettore Sottsass, 1969, Italy, MAAS collection, 2003/13/1
Olivetti lettera 22 (left), designed by Marcello Nizzoli, 1950, MAAS collection, 2013/118/1 and Olivetti Valentine (right), Ettore Sottsass, 1969, Italy, MAAS collection, 2003/13/1

Another designer deeply involved with Olivetti, Mario Bellini, is well represented in the exhibition and his calculator in lectern form (the Logos 55) and the Programma 101 stood out from the pack, while the little orange portable calculator was acknowledged as a desirable accessory for the time. Sottsass’ little red ABS plastic shelled pop inspired typewriter lived as an object beyond its function also.

Olivetti Logos 55 desk top calculator, designed by Mario Bellini, 1974, Italy, MAAS collection, 97/174/2-5
Olivetti Logos 55 desk top calculator, designed by Mario Bellini, 1974, Italy, MAAS collection, 97/174/2-5
Olivetti Programma 101 computer, hardware architect Pier Giorgio Perotto, designed by Mario Bellini, 1965-1971, Italy, MAAS collection, 2008/107/1-1/1
Olivetti Programma 101 computer, hardware architect Pier Giorgio Perotto, designed by Mario Bellini, 1965-1971, Italy, MAAS collection, 2008/107/1-1/1
Olivetti 'Divisumma 18 Portable calculator, designed by Mario Bellini, 1973, Italy, MAAS collection, 2013/100/1
Olivetti ‘Divisumma 18 Portable calculator, designed by Mario Bellini, 1973, Italy, MAAS collection, 2013/100/1

The gallery was well populated and as we disengaged from deep conversation, Hartmut was received by our guests and I helped capture selfies for some fans as they were heartily embraced by Hartmut. Everyone made their way to the theatre for Hartmut’s lecture which clearly defined the path and obstacles for designers. This was followed by a brief history of Hartmut’s design work by which time a clearly hungry and tired Hartmut told us to go and do some work.

I must admit that the privilege of meeting this great designer was humbled by his easy demeanour.  Hartmut had a message to impart on the night. I hope all those who attended the evening went away with the understanding that our world’s problems are opportunities to design solutions and have fun doing it.

Post by, Campbell Bickerstaff, curator

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