Enzo Mari at the Design Museum © Ramak Fazel
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Enzo Mari at the Design Museum

‘When I create a project, I always want it to last for at least 100 years or even 1000 years’

Enzo Mari (1932-2020) was one of the 20th Century’s most prolific and significant designers. Drawing inspiration from Marxism, the Arts and Craft Movement, and his early experiences of working life, his practice was shaped by his belief in the class struggle and the social responsibilities of design.

On the eve of the UK’s first ever retrospective of his work, sponsored by Istituto Marangoni London, we explore the Italian designer’s key pieces.

The exhibition, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli, opens at the Design Museum in London on Friday 29 March – find out more and book your ticket

1. La Serie della Natura, 1960s–1970s

Over several years, Mari turned images from daily life – pieces of fruit and animals – into pieces of art.

The original designs were silk screened and provided with aluminium strips to allow them to be easily fixed onto the wall.

They amplify Mari’s belief in the beauty of regular things – and the minimalist design remains a classic.

The Nature Series, No. 2: the pear – Enzo Mari with Elio Mari
Perpetual Calendar © Danese Milano

2. The Perpetual Calendar, 1959–1967

Much of Enzo Mari’s work was manufactured and distributed by Danese Milano, one of the foremost names in post-war Italian design.

One of Mari’s earliest projects for the brand was a perpetual calendar developed in 1959, featuring four horizontal strips of wood, that the user manually slides to reflect the date.

Later iterations were produced in anodized aluminium and PVC using the Helvetica font. These calendars represent Mari’s enduring belief in non-disposable, enduring design, and are still in production today.

3. Self-assembly chair, 1974

Mari developed the Autoprogettazione project, a free manual for creating modernist furniture from cheap, off the shelf materials, as part of a desire to return the means of furniture production back to the people.

Truly democratic in its principles, the manual’s accompanying text even politely requested that users send photographs of their creations to Mari’s studio.

Build your own Sedia P chair at a workshop at the Design Museum


red-1.-16-animals.-Wood.1957.-.-Photo- 16 animali © Federico Villa, Danese Milano

4. 16 Animali for Danese Milano, 1957

Cut in one stroke from a single piece of oak, the piece can be separated into 16 separate animal figures including a snake, camel and a rhino.

The idea for the set came from Mari’s belief in the importance of access to design for everyone, from the youngest age, combined with his frustration at needing to create new stories for his own children – why not give them the tools to create ‘a potentially infinite story’?

In 1976 he created another puzzle-like piece, this time from marble – the 44 separate pieces came together to form a giant hammer and sickle, which was presented at the Italian pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale.

5. Ameland Letter Opener, 1962

Forced to leave high school before completing his diploma due to his father’s ill health, Mari was employed in a number of manual jobs, including the delivery of vegetables and bricklaying.

These experiences shaped his politics, but also his design language – every project began with a desire to understand how people behaved and what elements of design were truly essential to the creation of any item.

Much of his expansive career was spent creating everyday items and simple pieces that were both beautiful and highly functional.


ameland_ameland_001_166 © Danese Milano