Tag Archives: design

RIP Luigi ‘biomorph’ Colani (1928 – 2019)

Luigi Colani was a German industrial designer, known for his use of curvilinear biomorphism.

wished him happy 80th birthday in 2008 and did a post on biomorphism in in 2007.

Car Styling brought four special issues on his work:

  • Designing Tomorrow (1978)
  • For a Brighter Tomorrow (1983)
  • Bio-Design of Tomorrow (1984)
  • Concept-Design of Tomorrow (2010)

I own ‘Designing Tomorrow ‘ the first of these booklets, in the magazine edition, in very good condition. I’m selling it for 100 euros, contact me if you are interested.

This is a good occasion to delve into the historiography of biomorphism:

The term biomorph was coined in 1895 by anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon in his book Evolution in Art, in which he stated that “the biomorph is the representation of anything living in contradistinction to the skeuomorph, which […] is the representation of anything”.

One year later, British writer Geoffrey Grigson uses the term biomorphism in two essays: in the short “Comment on England” (1935) he notes that “abstractions are of two kinds, geometric […] and biomorphic,” and observes that the way forward are the biomorphic abstractions; in the chapter “Painting and sculpture” in The Arts Today (1935), he describes the term biomorphic as “no bad term for the paintings of Miro, Hélion, Erni and others, to distinguish them from the modern geometric abstractions and from rigid Surrealism.”

Another year later, in 1936, New York art historian Alfred H. Barr Jr. in the catalogue of his 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, borrowed Grigson’s term without acknowledgement and noted that there is a secondary current in abstract art wich stems from Gauguin and Matisse and is “intuitional and emotional rather than intellectual; organic or biomorphic rather than geometrical in its forms; curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural, and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of the mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” He mentions the work of Joan Miró and Jean Arp and concludes: “the shape of the square confronts the silhouette of the amoeba.” Barr elegantly points to the major faultlines in 20th century art, which run along the axes ‘straight lines vs curvilinearity’, ‘wit vs seriousness’, and ‘cult of beauty vs cult of ugliness’ (or sexuality vs asexuality).

For a historiography of these early beginnings of biomorphism, consult Biocentrism and Modernism (2017).

Colani is dead. The last persons in my database alive in 1928 are philosopher Noam Chomsky, anthropologist Desmond Morris, musician Ennio Morricone and photographer William Klein.

Super Sottsass

I remember quite clearly driving to Paris in 1994 and seeing for the first time the ‘Superboxes[1][2] by Ettore Sottsass on the occasion of his retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou.

I seem to remember — I’m not sure if this actually happened — but it now seems that somewhere along the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring around Paris, we entered a tunnel which took us all the way to the underground parking below the Centre Georges Pompidou. I like to drive in tunnels and it felt like I had lucked out in finding a secret passage to the belly of the Parisian temple of postmodernity.

In 1966, the ‘Superboxes’ — monolithic wardrobes or closets — were at the same time extremely minimalistic, seemingly a tribute to the “less is more” credo of high modernism; yet very maximalist: the colours and the laminate of these box-shaped wardrobes foreshadowed postmodernism.

In retrospect, the prefix super- in ‘superbox’ was rather popular in Italian design during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Apart from the ‘superboxes’ there was superarchitettura and Superstudio.

But even outside Italy and outside of design, super was a popular prefix. There were supermarkets, there was ‘super’ leaded fuel, you had the Lee Perry Super Ape album and the Superfly film in entertainment.

See: “I Remember