Exploring the artistic side of Kartell, from the domestic to surreal

‘La Sedia,’ by Emilio Tadini, 1997
Installation view of ‘The Art Side of Kartell’ featuring ‘La Sedia,’ by Emilio Tadini, 1997
(Image credit: Emilio Tadini)

It’s almost impossible to separate post-war Italian design from the legacy of Kartell. From 1949 onwards, the Milan-based company has been dictating the domestic conversation with its innovative plastic furniture and home accessories. Though best known for high profile collaborations with some of design’s biggest names — Philippe Starck’s ‘Ghost Chair’ Joe Colombo’s ‘4801’ — for the first time, the brand is exploring its influence on the world of art in celebration of its 70th anniversary.

With the new show, ‘The Art Side of Kartell’, the brand has taken over the Appartamento dei Principi in the baroque Palazzo Reale next to Milan’s central Duomo Cathedral. ‘We decided not to follow a traditional celebratory path, but to explore and present Kartell to the public from an unprecedented perspective,’ says Claudio Luti, CEO of Kartell. Curated by Ferruccio Laviani and Rita Selvaggio, the exhibition offers 11 art-inspired interpretations of the historic brand. Described as ‘yesterday’s vision of the future’, a sequence of mise-en-scène featuring creative interpretations of Kartell’s design icons animate the lavishly decorated 17th-century halls.

The first room holds Bob Wilson’s ‘7 Electric Chairs... As You Like It’ from 2011, which weaves neon tubing through a series of clear, Kartell-made seating. On the ceiling, a similar pattern is projected onto the ornately rendered frescoes that decorate the historic palazzo, a gesture that fuses the contemporary with the ancient. Wilson, an American director and stage designer, created each chair to represent a different stage in a man’s life for his 70th birthday.

The Art Side of Kartell

Bob Wilson’s ‘7 Electric Chairs... As You Like It’ from 2011

(Image credit: Press)

The following rooms move from the domestic to the surreal. The second in the progression features a reimagined living room hung with photography by Bruce Weber and Ettore Sottsass’ watercolours: the property of an invented ‘modern collector’. There are immersive moments, including a series of video projections by Luca Stoppini of 70 international creatives who have worked with Kartell in the past, including Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Katerina Jebb and Li Hui.

There are also experimental elements, particularly a makeshift bar, spread with a buffet of dried herbs and arcane ingredients, that was made from ice cube-like Kartell plastic blocks. Created by KAYA (Kerstin Brätsch and Debo Eilers), the space also staged performances by artist Beatrice Marchi.

Viewed as a whole, the exhibition makes a strong case for Kartell’s inedible marks onto contemporary culture, even touching on collaborations with Mickey Mouse and Mattel. Though the exhibition launched in tandem with Salone del Mobile, it will remain open for visitors until mid-May, leaving more than enough time to discover Kartell's artistic side.

Untitled, Isa Genzken, 2012.

Untitled, by Isa Genzken, 2012. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York. © Isa Genzken VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / SIAE, 2019

(Image credit: Isa Genzken, Courtesy Galerie Buchholz)

Untitled by Heimo Zobernig, 2004. Chairs (various models) from Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg / Wien, 2011

Untitled by Heimo Zobernig, 2004. Chairs (various models) from Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg / Wien, 2011. Photo archive HZ © The artist

(Image credit: Heimo Zobernig)


‘The Art Side of Kartell’ is on view until 12 May. For more information, visit the Kartell website


Piazza del Duomo
12, 20122
Milano MI


Laura May Todd, Wallpaper's Milan Editor, based in the city, is a Canadian-born journalist covering design, architecture and style. She regularly contributes to a range of international publications, including T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Azure and Sight Unseen, and is about to publish a book on Italian interiors.