At 83, Designer Gaetano Pesce Is More Relevant Than Ever

At 83, Designer Gaetano Pesce Is More Relevant Than Ever

Gaetano Pesce doesn’t care much for right angles. The eminent Italian architect and designer has created, over the course of his long career, a massive body of work mostly without them. The shapes that scatter the 83-year-old’s workshop are abstract and futuristic.

Pesce’s work is alive and in motion, writhing with energy. His pieces often seem to be telling a joke, or else they ooze comically into space. Recently, the themes that Pesce has been perfecting for years have caught on in the culture. Bottega Veneta creative director Matthieu Blazy commissioned him to make a series of 400 Come Stai? chairs for its summer 2023 collection show in Milan. (Then Kate Moss posed on one for a campaign.) They are available now on the fashion brand’s website with prices ranging from $6,500 to $9,800. Gallerist Jeffrey Deitch has been known to lounge on a couple of the Pesce designed sofas in his LA home. One, in the shape of a salmon, a bear, and a toucan, is hardly recognizable as a sofa at all.

A Senzafine umbrella holder made for the Italian design brand Meritalia.

Gaetano Pesce, in his workshop.

The massive Brooklyn hangar-like space out of which Pesce works just about every day is a hall of fame—or maybe a jungle—of his famous designs. The bulbous red polyurethane Up chair and ottoman, first designed in 1969 and perhaps his most recognizable works, sit in one corner. (A similar pair is currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art.) Nearby stands one of those goopy Come Stai? chairs. A pair of lamps the broad, human faced Some of Us table lamp and a multicolored handkerchief-shaped Rug lamp are two more examples of how Pesce can approach the same object in radically different ways. The through line is his aversion to obvious shapes. Even the tables are free from the tyranny of perfect corners: The Sansone, from 1980, with drifting pools of color, is a live-edge slab of resin with legs askew. What could look like a 50-year retrospective of a design legend feels more like a look into the furniture crystal ball.

Pesce’s works don’t have many north-meets-east moments because he believes that those shapes are from the past. “A certain geometry is finished,” Pesce says, the kind with “triangles, rectangular shapes, circles.” Traditional materials are also off-limits. Pesce says stone, iron, metal, and wood are “witnesses” of another time, and he doesn’t much use them. “What is not over,” Pesce says, “is the figure” and futuristic, pliable materials.

Which is how these anthropomorphic faces and bodies get their shapes. Pesce tends to work with plastic resin and foam, which cast quickly and can take on any number of forms. “Resin can be soft,” Pesce says, “it can be colored, it can be translucent and transparent.” It’s also why his plastic lamps, tables, or chairs drip, drape, and fold over. It’s better to make a face out of resin than out of metal.

Pesce’s work is, and has always been, futuristic, but it doesn’t swerve retro or kitsch. Unlike the early-20th-century Italian futurists, Pesce doesn’t appear interested in celebrating mass production and high-tech machinery. He looks ahead to a new renaissance, one where we all treat one another better, a little softer. His work, he says, “previews what the future is suggesting.” But Pesce’s ideal world doesn’t only look nice: It’s a humanistic, democratic place where a chair resonant of the Venus of Willendorf has the same footing as a cabinet that seems to have preempted the emoji or a lamp built to resemble a bowl of spaghetti.

It’s a future filled with optimism, creativity, and humor, one Pesce has been dreaming up for half a century. One we need now more than ever. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for it to arrive.

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