Filosfera series 14077

By Angelo Lelli circa 1970.

Rimorchiatore

A copy of Gae Aulenti’s stunning metal table lamp, which looks like a little alien colony, is in the permanent collection at Centre Pompidou. From 1969.

No. 2068

Gino Sarfatti’s experimental chandelier from the early 1950s owes more to Scandinavian tradition than to his native Italy: The simple, bulb-studded wreath that evokes the crown of candles young girls wear during the festival of Santa Lucia.

No. 604 aka Moon

By the 1960s, Sarfatti was whipping up lighting designs that were very much of the Space Age. The Moon lamp, which is almost 2 feet wide, dates to 1969.

No. 540

By Sarfatti in 1968

Light Structure

As counterpoint, the exhibit includes pieces by a handful of non-Italian designers, including German lighting demigod Ingo Mauer. He designed Light Structure with Peter Hamburger in 1983.

2207-Flash

The narrow horizontal slits in these 1968 table lamps by Italian industrial-design great Joe Colombo were inspired by camera flash units.

Still Lights series, Zerodue WWF floor light

By Matteo Thun and Andrea Lera in 1985.

Asteroid

By Ettore Sottsass in 1968.

BT

Designed by STUDIO A.R.D.I.T.I. and Gianni Gamberini in 1971, this curious proto-maker lamp illuminates a pair of small bulbs -- attached to the base via circular magnets -- by sending a small amount of current through metal plates.

No. 1063

This physics-defying floor lamp manages to support a whopping 7-foot-tall fluorescent light with a flimsy little base attached indirectly to the light source. It looks totally avant-garde by today’s standards, but was actually designed more than 50 years ago, between 1953 and 1954!

Co.Design

Stunning, Rare Italian Lighting Evokes The Thrill Of The Atomic Age [Slideshow]

A new exhibit features gorgeous lighting by Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, and Gino Sarfatti.

Before Jason Miller and Tom Dixon and the handful of other lighting alchemists design journos rhapsodize about nowadays (us included), there was Gino Sarfatti, an Italian aeronaval engineer and one of the most important lighting designers of the last century.

Sarfatti had a pragmatist's eye and a poet's soul.

Sarfatti led the charge illuminating post-war Europe with a pragmatist's eye (?I have never been interested in form,? he reportedly said) and a poet's soul. Through his company Arteluce (later gobbled up by Flos), he created fixtures that could pass for gorgeous science experiments, whether a chandelier reduced to a wreath of metallic tubes or a ball-shaped shade pressed between Perspex, like some kind of planet frozen in orbit. Now, his designs form the bedrock of a stunning new exhibit at Galerie BSL in Paris on rare Italian lighting from the 1950s to the 1980s. It highlights 20 works from masters of mid-century design including Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, and of course Sarfatti himself.

Most of the lamps are very much of the era. Sarfatti's powdery pink Moon lamp, above, scatters tiny incandescent lights under a glass globe as if they were lunar craters and Sottsass's arching pink neon Asteroid lamp is a pop interpretation of, yes, an asteroid. A quirky little table lamp by Angelo Lelli (above) looks uncannily like Sputnik. In these pieces, and others, Sarfatti and his colleagues literally and metaphorically shined the spotlight on the excitement and the anxieties of the Atomic Age.

What's extraordinary, though, is that the lamps don't seem dated. Okay, some are a little dated. Perspex doesn't exactly scream 21st century, nor do incandescent bulbs. But in a strict formal sense — in the sense Sarfatti so vehemently rebuked — some feel downright radical. Sarfatti's N°1063 is an astonishingly minimal sliver of a 7-foot-tall floor lamp that could stand alongside the latest lighting fixture by Dixon or Miller, and you'd be hard-pressed to guess which one is new and which one is more than 50 years old.

[Images courtesy of Galerie BSL]

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