Den of delight: exploring sex and design in Milan exhibition

Den of delight: exploring sex and design in Milan exhibition

Rotund bottoms. Bouncing breasts. Pink vaginas. Hot rod phalluses. They may get your juices flowing in a sultry den of delights, but are not exactly what intellectual designers have been panting over through the years. Or are they? A new exhibition at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum entitled ’Kama: Sex and Design’ (opening on 5 December) will feature over 300 design objects, spanning 9,000 years, all which smack of seductive body parts and the implication, at least, of raunchy sex to come.

’I was very interested in how sexuality was capable of giving life and influence to the objects,’ explains Silvana Annicchiarico, curator of the exhibition. ’Especially how objects can be plasmatic, taking their form by the contours of the body.’

Annicchiarico has unearthed a doozy of unusual delights. From Piero Fornasetti’s face drawn plates (1980), where a phallus has replaced a man’s nose, to Jamie McCartneys’ ’The Great Wall of Vagina’ (2012), a plaster cast of 400 real women’s genitals, to big old horn dildos affixed to Helmut Palla’s 2008 chairs, these in-your-face sex designs were created of the body and not just for the body.

The roots of sex-in-design have a tangled line all the way back to the Paleolithic era, but got a big bang in Ancient Greece, Rome and Pompeii. ’Back then it was normal to live with objects that were in the shape of a phallus,’ Annicchiarico explains. ’But with the advent of Christianity, all that changed.’ 

Still, over the millennia, some X-rated design moments have popped up, like the perky cups molded in the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breasts in 1798, from which the last Queen of France used to drink her daily milk. Or, more recently, David Baskin’s slippery pink dildo-shaped bottles.

Not everything in the exhibition is quite so overt. Salvadore Dali’s luscious lips couch, a 1936 homage to Mae West, or Eames 1948 ’La Chaise’ chairs with the ’butt’ holes (’I saw it as a giant orifice’ says Annicchiarico) were chosen for their less-literal symbolism.

Rounding out the historical collection, Annicchiarico commissioned eight international designers - Andrea Branzi, Nacho Carbonell, Nigel Coates, Matali Crasset, Lapo Lani, Nendo, Italo Rota and Betony Vernon - to deal with the theme in new, site specific installations.

Nigel Coates, for example, created ’Picaresque’ a free-standing triptych which at first glance appears to be three windows of regular furniture. When viewers activate a film with their smart phones or tablets, however, the environment gets decidedly steamier.

’Design can suffer from a persistent taboo that masks any erotic connotation,’ says Coates. ’But I believe that the sensual is always present in furniture, lighting and spaces, and with "Picaresque" I want to explore the secret life of the design object and their erotic charge.’

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