Memphis in Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee-native Dennis Zanone is quite possibly the world’s greatest fan of Memphis design. Over the past two decades, he’s amassed an outstanding collection of postmodern pieces—from the iconic, like Sottsass’s Carlton Bookcase, to the obscure, like Peter Shire’s Anchorage Teapet. It not hyperbole to say his home is a living tribute to ’80s-era design.

Since Memphis has been in the air lately, we thought we’d go to an expert for some insights into this most recognizable of design styles.

Dennis's Super Lamp by Martine Bedin, 1981 Dennis's Super Lamp by Martine Bedin, 1981

 

WC: When did you start collecting Memphis, and why were you initially attracted to this work?

DZ: I started collecting Memphis design in the early ’90s. I liked the odd shapes, mix of materials, and the use of vibrant color—and that fact that it was, in a way, named for my hometown. I remembered seeing it in the mid ’80s at an exhibition, and my brother Don, who collects midcentury modern, said that he thought Memphis would be a period collectible at one point in the future. A few pieces bought at auction turned into an obsession. And now my home is filled with postmodern design, and the main emphasis is Memphis-Milano.

WC: How would you say design changed after Memphis?

DZ: I actually think modern design became more functional after the ’80s. Sottsass considered Memphis as an ephemeral movement intended to shake up late ’70s, early ’80s design—not a reaction to fine midcentury design. People who like Memphis appreciate it as a design study; and those who are repulsed by it have a visceral reaction to its cartoonish, over-consuming, "greed is good" vibe. So you either love it or hate it I've found. There’s no equivocation on the subject.

WC: Do you have any recommendations for those who’d like to start collecting Memphis work?

DZ: As with art, buy what you like and can live with, and start with the more common pieces that are less expensive and easier to find at galleries and auctions; then add larger pieces. I started with the furniture then realized I needed some of the metal pieces, and that led to wanting some of the art glass pieces.

WC: What is your favorite piece of Memphis design, and why?

DZ: My favorite piece is the Tawaraya (Boxing Ring Bed) by Masanori Umeda from 1981. It is the largest piece made by Memphis, and it’s considered a piéce de résistance along with the Plaza Vanity by Michael Graves. Of course, I use the Tawaraya as my bed, and I find it very practical. The Memphis design ethos was that form doesn't have to follow function, yet all of the pieces function as intended. I guess that's the difference between living with the pieces and seeing them in photographs in print.

Check out these photos from Dennis’s collection!

First Chair by Michele De Lucchi, 1983 First Chair by Michele De Lucchi, 1983

Anchorage Teapot by Peter Shire, 1982 Anchorage Teapot by Peter Shire, 1982

Flamingo Table by Michele De Lucchi, 1984 Flamingo Table by Michele De Lucchi, 1984

Metropole Clock by George Sowden, 1982. Metropole Clock by George Sowden, 1982.

Lido Sofa by Michele De Lucchi, 1982 Lido Sofa by Michele De Lucchi, 1982

Kristall Table by Michele De Lucchi, 1981 Kristall Table by Michele De Lucchi, 1981

Alpha Centauri Vase by Marco Zanini, 1982 Alpha Centauri Vase by Marco Zanini, 1982

Tawaraya Bed by Masanori Umeda, 1981—installed in the Dixon Gallery & Gardens Tawaraya Bed by Masanori Umeda, 1981—installed in the Dixon Gallery & Gardens

 

If you’d like to know more about Dennis’s collection, you should peruse the various sites he maintains just for the love of Memphis: www.memphis-milano.org, https://www.facebook.com/MemphisMovement, and www.bit.ly/MemphisMovement. The latter showcases the recent Memphis exhibition at Dixon Gallery & Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, the first Memphis museum exhibition in the U.S. since Cooper Hewitt's back in 1986.

*All images courtesy Dennis Zanone; © the artists