Barbara Radice is an Italian design critic, writer, and editor known for her integral role in shaping the narrative and public understanding of the Memphis Group, a postmodern design collective that emerged in the 1980s. As the only non-architect among the founding members, Radice provides a unique perspective in defining the group’s aesthetic and philosophic approach to design.
Early Life and Education
Born in Como, Italy, on November 29, 1943, Radice completed her education at the Catholic University of Milan in 1968. Her early years laid the foundation for her extensive career in design criticism and writing.
The Birth of Memphis Group
Perhaps the most pivotal moment in Radice’s career was her role in the formation of the Memphis Group. The collective was born during a gathering at Radice’s Milanese home in December 1980. Her association with Memphis wasn’t just passive; she was actively involved in shaping the group’s theories and aesthetics.
Memphis: More Than Furniture
Radice’s writings served as a lens through which to view and understand the Memphis Group’s multi-disciplinary output. In 1984, she published “Memphis: Research, Experiences, Results, Failures and Successes of New Design,” a seminal text that offered a comprehensive overview of the group’s work. It highlighted not just the furniture but also laminates by Ettore Sottsass, patterned fabrics by Nathalie du Pasquier, and ceramics by Matteo Thun.
Editorial Venture: Terrazzo
Adding another layer to her impressive career, Radice served as the editor for Terrazzo, a design and architecture magazine. She launched it in collaboration with Ettore Sottsass, and the magazine’s name intriguingly carries a double meaning: “a place of encounter” in Italian and also a reference to a popular style of flooring.
Preserving Legacy: Ettore Sottsass and Memphis
Radice has undertaken the responsibility of preserving the legacy of her late husband, Ettore Sottsass, and the Memphis Group. She curated the 2017 exhibition “Ettore Sottsass – There Is a Planet” for the Milan Triennial, further establishing her role as the group’s de facto historian.
Controversies and Stedelijk Museum
Radice’s role as a guardian of Sottsass’s legacy has not been without its challenges. In 2018, a retrospective of Sottsass’s work at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam turned contentious when the institution described being given “too little scope for interpretations” by the estate. Radice and gallery owner Ernest Mourmans countered that the museum was “adversarial,” leading to the cancellation of the exhibition.
Publications: An Extensive Portfolio
Aside from her role in the Memphis Group and Terrazzo magazine, Radice has an extensive list of publications under her belt. These works range from biographies, such as “Ettore Sottsass: A Critical Biography,” to more theoretical pieces like “Jewelry By Architects.”
Barbara Radice’s personal and professional lives intersect in her marriage to Ettore Sottsass, a fellow Memphis member whom she met in 1976 at the Venice Biennale. The couple remained together until Sottsass’s death in 2007.
Barbara Radice’s multi-faceted career—spanning criticism, writing, editing, and curating—has positioned her as a seminal figure in understanding and shaping postmodern design narratives. Her role, particularly in contextualizing the Memphis Group, stands as a testament to the power of critical thought in shaping design history.
Barbara Radice. (2023, October 24). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Radice