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Enzo Mari, Timor, calendar (1966)

“No ideas but in things,” opined American poet William Carlos Williams. “No things but in ideas,” counters Italian designer Enzo Mari — not to deny Williams’ insistence on the poetry of the real but to find poetry behind the real, in the functional. Emerging in the postwar era, when modernism was renewed through re-examination, Mari re-examined the Bauhaus designers, liked what they meant — form does indeed follow function — but saw that, because of their allegiance to a geometrized aesthetic, they didn’t go far enough. For Mari, what an object wants to do determines what it wants to be — what it’s shaped like, what it’s made of, how it relates to time and space and the human body. One step away from ergonomics, Mari insisted on finding the artfulness of things in their usefulness; he brought in curves where curves were necessary, bolts where bolts were needed, plastics where lightweight durability was advisable, interchangeable units where that made sense, and a spirit of spare elegance and even wit throughout, allowing tools to look like sculptures and to operate like extensions of the hand. Mari’s kitchen utensils and children’s toys and books are his most strikingly revolutionary inventions, but from chairs to workplace objects — boxes, calendars, desk lamps — he has not only changed the shape of our world but changed how we think about shaping our world to make it better, more efficient and, of course, sexier. Italian Cultural Institute, 1023 Hilgard Ave., Wstwd.; Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 443-3250.

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