Gaetano Pesce

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Gaetano Pesce, an Italian architect and design pioneer of the 20th century, has left an indelible mark on the design world. His innovative work has blurred the boundaries between art, design, and industry, creating a unique fusion that is as captivating as it is functional. Born in La Spezia in 1939, Pesce’s career spans over six decades, marked by groundbreaking innovations and iconic art, design, and architecture works.

Early Life and Education

Pesce was born in 1939 in La Spezia, Italy. He graduated in architecture from Venice University in 1965. During his time at IUAV in Venice, he was influenced by personalities such as Carlo Scarpa and Ernesto Nathan Rogers.

In 1959, Pesce joined the EnneA Group in Padova, which included nine other artists. However, the group disbanded the following year.

Gaetano Pesce’s Design Journey

Pesce’s design journey began in earnest in 1962 when he collaborated with C&B (now B&B Italia) to create the UP Series. The UP Series comprised seven models of polyurethane foam armchairs, which quickly became icons of Italian industrial design. The most famous of these, the UP5, was a political expression about women’s status in society, using the forms of votive statues of fertility goddesses.

Up Series by C&B Italia vintage Advertising, 1969

In addition to his work with B&B Italia, Pesce designed for Cassina, Bernini, and Venini and, in 1971, founded Bracciodiferro to produce experimental objects. This included the Moloch floor lamp in 1971 and the Golgotha table chair in 1972.

Golgotha Chair by Gaetano Pesce for Bracciodiferro, 1972


New York and Beyond

In 1983, Pesce relocated to New York. Here, he founded Fish Design and Open Sky, companies involved in creating postmodern objects. Between 1993 and 1995, he designed the offices of Chiat/day/Advertising agency in Manhattan.

Pesce’s work has been internationally recognized. In 1996, a personal exhibition dedicated to him was held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, titled “Gaetano Pesce, le temps des questions.” His designs are also displayed at world-renowned museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Pesce’s Architectural Brilliance

Since the 1960s, Gaetano Pesce has skillfully blended art with interior, product, and architectural design. His innovative approach has earned him the well-deserved accolade of being “the architectural equivalent of a brainstorm,” as praised by New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp. Furthermore, one of his remarkable creations is the Organic Building in Osaka, Japan. It comprises a towering structure adorned with a vertical garden and an ingenious computer-controlled hydration system that nurtures plant growth.

Another testament to Pesce’s genius is the inventive interior architecture of the Chiat/Day offices. Inspired by urban life, Pesce transformed this workplace village into an architectural marvel, effortlessly capturing the essence of everyday societal elements. Notable examples of his architectural prowess include Les Halles ACIH (1979) and Parc de la Villette (1985) in Paris, France, both featuring captivating forms reminiscent of a running child.

Through his unique approach, Pesce has secured his place in design history. His three-dimensional models and architectural drawings are proudly displayed in renowned museums worldwide. For instance, the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City; the San Francisco Museum of Art in California; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Vitra Design Museum in Germany; the Danish Museum of Art & Design in Copenhagen; the Centre Pompidou and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, France; and the Triennale Museum in Milan, Italy showcase Pesce’s architectural brilliance. Ultimately, Pesce’s unwavering creativity and innovative exploration are evident in his work.

The Organic Building in Osaka: An Architectural Epitome of Eco-friendly Design

Gaetano Pesce’s Organic Building, constructed between 1989 and 1993 in Osaka, Japan, is one of his most iconic architectural works. This pioneering masterpiece predates the era of eco-friendly architecture and vertical greenery, showcasing Pesce’s innovative strength. The nine-story building, adorned with red steel-coated concrete panels, features fiberglass “pockets” holding over 80 types of indigenous plants, including bamboo. It seamlessly blends into the urban landscape and is recognized as an urban monument by the municipality of Osaka. The Organic Building embodies the essence of architecture in harmony with nature, making a compelling case for sustainable urban development.

Gaetano Pesce and Design: Embracing Diversity and Imperfection

Since the 1960s, Gaetano Pesce has emerged as a revolutionary figure in the design realm. His relentless exploration of the function and form of utilitarian and decorative objects, from furniture to jewelry and shoes, reflects a profound concern for human emotion, environment, and production. According to Susan Slesin, Pesce employs design to comment on the world, challenging established abstraction, uniformity, and homogeneity norms.

Moreover, among Pesce’s most iconic creations is the feminist armchair, known as La Mamma, Big Mama, Donna, and Up chair. This chair and its ball-shaped ottoman symbolize women’s condition worldwide, representing motherhood and societal constraints. 

Furthermore, Pesce is widely recognized for his innovative use of materials and production techniques. He has developed simplified manufacturing processes that defy conventional practices by working with resin, foam, urethane, and experimental additives like liquid plant resin. His ‘industrial design’ methods, such as diversified series production, infuse a sense of craftsmanship into mass production methodologies, resulting in unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.

Additionally, many of Pesce’s designs convey socio-political messages, celebrating human diversity and connection. For example, his collection Nobody’s Perfect (2002) by Zerodisegno and the 2010 Sessantuna, a series of irregularly shaped tables for Cassina, forming a boot shape to commemorate Italy’s unification, serve as significant examples.

Moreover, his works, which are housed in prestigious museums around the world, straddle the line between industrial design and art. This is exemplified by the 2014 retrospective exhibition “The Time of Diversity” at MAXXI, National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome. Even his most recent installations, such as “Majesty Betrayed” (2016) and “Porta Ritratti” (2018), continue to challenge traditional mindsets and pay homage to cultural diversity.

Notable Architectural Projects by Gaetano Pesce

Throughout his illustrious career, Gaetano Pesce has undertaken several notable architectural projects, further cementing his reputation as a visionary in the field. Here are some of his most distinguished works:

  • 1980: Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition II
  • 1983: Project for the rehabilitation of the Lingotto in Turin, Italy, for the Fiat group
  • 1986: La Maison des enfants au Parc de la Villette in Paris, France
  • 1986: Hubin Apartment in Paris

Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Tower, 1980

Hubin Apartment in Paris, 1986

  • 1991: TBWA\Chiat\Day Offices in New York
  • 1993: Organic Building in Osaka, Japan
  • 1994: Shuman Residence in New York
  • 1994: Art Gallery in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium
  • 1994: Bahia House in Brazil

TBWA\Chiat\Day Offices in New York, 1991

Organic Building in Osaka, Japan, 1983

Bahia House in Brazil, 1994

Each of these projects showcases Pesce’s unique style of fusing functionality with aesthetics and his ability to challenge architectural norms.

Notable Design Projects by Gaetano Pesce

Gaetano Pesce’s contributions to the design realm are as impressive as his architectural endeavors. His unique perspective and innovative techniques have resulted in several notable design projects:

The 1960s and te 1970s

  • Up series for B&B Italia (1969): A series of 7 seats manufactured with a polyurethane foam shell. The volumes could be deflated for easier storage and shipping.

Up Series by Gaetano Pesce for C&B Italia, 1969

Up Series by C&B Italia, 1969

  • Moloch floor lamp for Bracciodiferro (1971): A radical design that transformed the classic Luxo L1 table lamp by quadrupling its size.

Moloch Floor Lamp by Bracciodiferro, 1971

  • Golgotha series for Bracciodiferro (1972): The Golgotha series includes tables of different shapes and sizes and chairs with high and low backrests.

Golgotha Series by Bracciodiferro, 1972

  • Sit Down armchair for Cassina (1975): A single block armchair made of molded polyurethane.

Sit-Down Armchair by Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1975

The 1980s

  • Dalila chair and armchair for Cassina (1980): Chair and armchair of informal appearance, rigid polyurethane printed with epoxy resin finish.

Dalila Chair and Armchair by Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1980

  • Tramonto a New York for Cassina (1980): Seating with modular elements directly supported on the ground, allowing various compositions.

Tramonto a New York Sofa by Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1980

  • Sansone table for Cassina (1980): An irregularly shaped table printed in various colored plastic.

Sansone Table by Cassina, 1980

  • Luigi o Mi Amate Voi? series for Bernini (1982): A folding table and screen with tilting shelves, in wood, treated by alternating lively colonies.

Luigi o Mi Amate Voi? Series by Bernini, 1982

  • I Feltri armchair for Cassina (1987): A simple form seat, halfway between the dress and the seat, because it gathers almost around the person protecting it with its large wings.

I Feltri Armchair by Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1987

  • Cannaregio modular sofa for Cassina (1987): A series of informal design seats, which, freely combined, allow the creation of different domestic landscapes.

Cannaregio Modular Sofa by Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1987

  • Sansonedue table for Cassina (1987): The table tops, in five variants, are cast in colored epoxy resin and incorporate a metal grid to which the legs are fixed, which can be positioned at will, in PVC.

Sansonedue Table by Cassina, 1987

  • Les Atelier cabinet for Cassina (1987): A piece of furniture with an “inhuman” appearance despite vaguely anthropomorphic forms. It is a sideboard with a riser, 236 cm high, openable in every sector.

Les Atelier Cabinet by Cassina, 1987

The 1990s and the 2000s

  • Broadway chair for Bernini (1993): A chair and stool that rests on spring feet the steel structure. The colorful seat is in epoxy resin. 

Broadway Chair by Gaetano Pesce for Bernini, 1993

  • Nobody’s Perfect series for Zerodisegno (2002): The Nobody’s Perfect collection spanned a 9-year production period. With meticulous attention to detail, the Quatrocchio Zerodisegno division crafted each piece individually, resulting in exceptional works of art marked by their distinctiveness and creativity. Using materials such as polyurethane-based resin, steel, and metal further enriches the collection, including various chairs, armchairs, tables, and storage furniture.

Nobody's Perfect Chair by Zerodisegno, 2002

  • Sessantuna series for Cassina (2010): The artwork consists of sixty-one meticulously handcrafted tables, created by pouring a mixture of resin and the colors of the Italian flag into a mold. Thanks to the craftsmanship and creative techniques, each table has a unique shape and color filling. Notably, the legs of each table can be independently rotated, offering flexibility and customization. With approximately 25 x 20 meters in dimensions, this impressive artwork tells captivating stories about specific geographic areas or significant historical events.

Sessantuna Table by Cassina, 2010

These designs each showcase Pesce’s unique style of blending function and aesthetics with a consistent desire to challenge design norms.

Gaetano Pesce: The Sculptor

Beyond his extensive design work, sculpture is crucial to Pesce’s artistic identity. His career began with sculptural works, and this art form has remained a constant throughout his career. One of his most recent works is “L’Italia in Croce,” a provocative piece criticizing Italy’s current situation. The sculpture consists of a crucifix with a bleeding silhouette of the Italian peninsula, symbolizing the hope for resurrection.

Gaetano Pesce: A Lasting Legacy

Today, Gaetano Pesce continues to live and work in New York, contributing to the design world through his companies Fish Design and Open Sky. Moreover, his innovative approach to design and architecture has made him a prominent figure in the industry, inspiring many to think outside the box and push the boundaries of what is possible.

Furthermore, Gaetano Pesce’s life and work testify to the power of creativity and innovation. Not only have his designs shaped the furniture world, but they have also made significant contributions to architecture and sculpture. As we look back on his illustrious career, we can only marvel at the breadth and depth of his genius.

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