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Enzo Mari, industrial designer who kept things simple, dies at 88.


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Those We’ve Lost

The Italian architect and designer Enzo Mari in his studio with models of his projects in Milan, in 1974. The Italian architect and designer Enzo Mari in his studio with models of his projects in Milan, in 1974.Credit…Adriano AlecchiMondadori Portfolio by Getty Images Penelope Green

  • Nov. 1, 2020

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Enzo Mari, an irascible industrial designer, artist and polemicist who made simple, beautiful objects, including toys and traffic bollards, that delighted generations of Italians and design buffs all over the world, died on Oct. 19 at a hospital in Milan. He was 88.

The cause was complications of the coronavirus, said Hans Ulrich Obrist, who, with Francesca Giacomelli, curated a major retrospective of his work at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan, which opened two days before his death.

Mr. Mari’s wife, Lea Vergine, an art critic, theoretician and performance artist, also died from the coronavirus, on Oct. 20, at 82.

Mr. Mari was known as much for his grumpy pronouncements on the state of design — which he disdained as mostly unnecessary and a waste of labor and material — as for his own designs.

His most beloved works include an elegant platter made from a slightly bent I-beam (a functional art piece that presaged Donald Judd’s explorations by a few years); a cunning puzzle of 16 animals jigsawed from a single piece of oak; a perpetual calendar that worked like old traffic signals, with days and months printed on plastic cards that pivot out; and a do-it-yourself handbook and anti-industrial manifesto for making furniture using only nails and standard lumber (no need for fancy joinery, or a fancy designer).

That all of these things became collectibles for design aficionados was particularly irritating to him.

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