This paper is a design critique of Alessandro Mendini and his Proust Armchair. Mendini is a world-renowned Italian architect-designer, and his Proust Armchair is a contemporary design icon, as well as a Mendini’s trademark. This study argues whether Mendini’'s Proust armchair can be categorized into postmodernism, and whether Mendini can be labeled as a postmodernist in spite of his reluctance to being labeled as such.
This argument starts from the fact that Mendini has never identified himself as a postmodernist, but as a neo-modernist. Thus, it pays attention to Mendini’s selfevaluation which was in the shadow of the critics’ opinions. This study, as a design critique synthesizes both of the views, and reads Mendini and his design in the context of their culture and history. The Proust chair is a ready-made replica from a neo-Baroque armchair of the eighteenth century, completely covered with colorful handpainted dots from a pointillist painting by Paul Signac. It reflects the ideas originatedfrom the literature of Marcel Proust. The Chair epitomizes Mendini’s design journey which commenced with the label of ‘radical design’, and moved on to ‘redesign’, ‘kitsch’ and ‘banal design’, and consequently has realized ‘poetic and pictorial design’. It raises questions like the distinction between high and low culture, the encounter of the past and present, and the symbiotic coexistence of literature and painting. Therefore, the Proust chair takes an ambivalent and ambiguous position among art, design, and furniture.
Whether Mendini is labeled as a postmodernist, or he identifies himself as a neomodernist, he is closer to being an eclecticist. He has attempted to realize the optimistic and artistic utopia. To him, there are multiple ways to the utopia, which is through poetic, emotional and pictorial design. It is hard to hypothesize postmodernism as an entity free from personal, socio-cultural, and historical factors. Mendini’s design is a combination of all of these factors.