Obituary / Enzo Mari

A tribute to the avant-garde Italian designer who defended design for all.

By Anna Sansom / 21st October 2020
Enzo Mari PHOTOGRAPH: Ramak Fazel

Enzo Mari

ON 19th OCTOBER, the avant-garde Italian designer Enzo Mari died, aged 88, in a hospital in Milan. He will be remembered for his pioneering vision of collaborative, accessible and DIY design decades before open-source design would be launched online. Among others to pay tribute on Monday, design writer Alice Rawsthorn described Mari as “one of the most gifted, original and uncompromising designers and design activists of our time.”

Born in 1932 in Novara in the Piedmont region in northern Italy, Mari studied at the Brera Fine Arts Academy in Milan and was a self-taught designer with Marxist beliefs and an acerbic temperament. After founding his studio in 1952, he focused his research on the meaning of shapes, new product forms and visual perception.

Mari’s most radical project is probably ‘Proposta per un’autoprogettazione’ (1974), a collection of furniture, including a chair, a table and a desk, that each person could make themselves based on printed instructions, thus empowering the individual. His diverse collaborations with industrial manufacturers, meanwhile, include the plastic-and-metal ‘Box’ chair (1971-1976) for Anonima Castelli, whose components could be packed in a flat box and be mounted and dismantled by the consumer. Mari even applied his theoretical thinking to conceiving a wooden puzzle with 16 different animal shapes made from a single piece of wood for Danese in 1957.

Enzo Mari, '16 animals', 1957 PHOTOGRAPH: Federico Villa

Enzo Mari, ’16 animals’, 1957
PHOTOGRAPH: Federico Villa

The winner of three Compasso d’Oro – a prestigious industrial design award in Italy – Mari’s career is being fêted in an exhibition at the Triennale di Milano, which opened two days before his death and runs until 8th April 2021. ‘Enzo Mari’, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli, documents six decades of Mari’s ideas and activity. This is seen through projects, models, drawings and materials from the Enzo Mari Archive which Mari donated to CASVA, the centre for advanced studies in the visual arts of the City of Milan.

Installation view, 'Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli', 2020 COURTESY: © Triennale Milano / PHOTOGRAPH: Gianluca Di Loia

Installation view, ‘Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli’, 2020 COURTESY: © Triennale Milano /
PHOTOGRAPH: Gianluca Di Loia

Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli runs until 8th April 2020.



Article by Anna Sansom
Article by Anna Sansom
Anna Sansom is a British journalist, based in Paris, who writes about contemporary art, design and architecture. View all articles by Anna Sansom