Gufram Cactus: The Story Behind Its Iconic Cactus

Photo of author
Written By Jim J Neal

Courtesy GuframItaly may not be the first country to come to mind when thinking about succulent populations, but it is the home of one of the most well-known cacti in the world. It is a 67-inch tall flexible polyurethane specimen that was originally created as a hall rack in 1972. This specimen is now in museums around the world and can also be seen on our latest cover. The soft, thornless Cactus was designed by Guido Drocco, Franco Mello, and manufactured by Gufram. Gufram is a company that created the whimsical, spongy furniture collection that became synonymous with the Italian radical style movement. Its dimpled arms reach skyward and suggest “Yay!” Baby !”– will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Gufram’s Cactus promotional image from 1973. Courtesy Gufram. The often elusive designers recalled the Cactus’s origin story in honor of the semicentennial. “Franco Mello was my guest in my house in Via Sacchi in Turin on a grey winter day. We were able to compensate by thinking about what we would like to have in our home as reminders of the sun and heat. Drocco, now at 79, explains that we were searching for unconventional shapes that are tied to tradition. We created a prototype using a shaped base of polyurethane. It was finished by adding a layer of dimples I found among other construction tools as a sound-absorbing material. “The green varnish called ‘leather” reminded me of a thornless, prickly cactus,” says the designer. It was instantly welcomed as an element between artifice and nature that matched well with other materials Gufram made.

Charles Stendig was a collector who purchased a super-rare American export model. According to R & Company’s Evan Snyderman the original was made in America for Charles Stendig. His New York City showroom, which was the first to focus on modern European design, has since been a “holy grail” among design collectors. It is a 1970s beige, but in a slightly different shape. Snyderman says it is difficult with a flocked floor. They didn’t fare well over time. They were prone to break down, crack and crumble, and eventually disintegrate into dust. Two of them survived. (One is featured in the current “Radical, Italian Design 1965-1985: The Dennis Freedman collection” exhibition at Yale University.

Maurizio Cattelan’s humorous take on Cactus. In 2010, red and black versions were introduced. A Metacactus with orangey caps on its zaftig tentacles was also introduced in 2012. Pierpaolo Ferrari and Maurizio Cattelan were the creative conspirators. They adorned the Cactus’s base in white eggs with their God version. A limited edition Le Bleu homage to France was sold in three days. Three years later, Paul Smith recreated the succulent in three new “psychedelic” colors. Today, Gufram will reveal the next iteration this pianti grasse in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Cactus celebrates turning 50 by teaming with the Andy Warhol Foundation. (c) The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
It is difficult to remember a design object that has been around for so many years. The original mold was used and the product is still being produced. This process takes between four and five weeks. It’s a beautiful piece of furniture. Stendig, 97, says he laughs every time he calls from his New York City apartment. He lives without a cactus because of space limitations. “Who doesn’t love a cactus? They are the coolest thing. Snyderman said that everyone loves it. He bought the original rubber model, seven inches in size, from Drocco and it now occupies a special place on his desk.
Mello tells us that he has the Radiant edition (a limited edition in collaboration With Ordovas Gallery, 2017); Guido Drocco says he has the Radiant version in his studio. Franco said he is open to the idea of putting his creative stamp onto one more version, a metal casting in Bronze–creating perhaps the ultimate design award.

Did you miss our previous article…