Radical Italian designer, author, and vocal communist Enzo Mari passed away yesterday, October 19, of COVID-19 in a Milanese hospital at the age of 88. Today, Italian curator and art writer Lea Vergine, Mari’s wife, also passed away from complications related to COVID at 82.
Mari was born in Novara, Italy, in 1932, and later went on to study at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan in the 1950s. His industrial and furniture design throughout the ’60s and ’70s and collaborations with Italian design brand Danese led to a number of iconic pieces, including the Delfina chair and the wooden “16 Animali” children’s puzzle. Comprised of 16 interlocking oak animals, each slots into the other to form a solid wood board in its completed state, echoing a laser-cut form decades before the technology’s mainstream adoption.
Mari was also a utopian idealist who espoused the transformative power of design and the democratization of design, a vision that carried through to both his writings and finished work. In the 1974 Autoprogettazione (a book so popular it’s now in its seventh reprinting), Mari provided what we would now consider “open source” instructions for designing a range of home furniture from simple boards of wood and nails, high-design items broken down for the “layperson” with Mari’s impeccable attention to detail. Mari eventually closed his studio in 2014, but his work continues to be shown in museums around the world.
The outpouring of support online was intense, as Stefano Boeri, president of the Milan Triennale (which is coincidentally running Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli through April 18, 2021) posted his condolences on his Facebook page. On Twitter, users remembered Mari’s radical spirit and posted examples of the furniture they had built from Autoprogettazione.
I just learned that the designer Enzo Mari passed away yesterday. Among many things, he created Autoprogettazione, a DIY book of design for the masses. This weekend I finished building a variation on one of his plans… little did I know 🙇🏼♂️https://t.co/iRAsVbvtbf pic.twitter.com/DIfAl1fLYo
— Luca C Malatesta (@_geoLuca) October 20, 2020
Vergine was just as influential in the world of art criticism. Born in 1938 in Naples, Vergine’s commentary on body art in the 1970s rattled the male-dominated field in Italy, and she took great pains to highlight women artists, giving them the chance to contribute in their own words. Mari and Vergine married in 1978, but had known each other worked together since the ’60s.