One of the most versatile and unconventional designers from the second half of the 20th century, Gaetano Pesce (1939-) has been expanding the notions and structures of Italian New Design throughout his entire career. He studied architecture and industrial design in Venice from 1959-1965, and went on to produce continually vibrant and radical work in painting, sculpture, film, theater, design and architecture. While in school, he briefly opened a studio in Padua with Milena Vettore. He was also one of the founding members of the Group N, a collective of people working in the fine arts around the idea of programmed art that had emerged from the 1920s Bauhaus movement.
In 1967 Pesce left Italy for a decade of traveling the world. He went to Paris and in the early 1970s he came to America to an international meeting on design in Aspen, Colorado. He traveled in Japan, and in the early 1980s came to New York to teach at Cooper Union, having also taught at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies in Strasbourg and at the Domus Academy in Milan.
Pesce began to make a name for himself, and to establish his reputation for idiosyncratic work, with his "UP" series of armchairs that premiered at the 1969 Milan Furniture Show. The series was made up of a set of seven chairs for different needs, such as seating children, seating adults or seating more than one or two people. The organic shapes of the set itself have a simple, comfortable appeal, but the real innovation was in the packaging. The chairs were molded out of polyurethane foam, compressed under a vacuum until they were flat and then packaged in PVC envelopes. When the envelopes were opened the chairs expanded to their normal size. His "Sit Down" chair and ottoman, inspired by the work of American Pop sculptor Claes Oldenburg, are an overstuffed expression of anti-chic comfort, in stark contrast to the clean lines of the molded plastic chairs of the time. His 1980 "New York Sunrise" sofa is a straightforward representation of the sun and a skyline, also in polyurethane foam.
In 1972 at the MoMA's exhibition, "Italy: the New Domestic Landscape" Pesce was represented by his "Moloch" lamp. This design was an enormous reproduction of the popular swing-arm "Luxo" lamp. Some of his other important works include the elegant 1986 lamp series, including the "Airport," "Square" and "Bastone" standing and wall-mounted lamps. His melted plastic "Samson and Delilah" chairs and tables (1980) are representative of his attempt to design "objects that have a propensity or an aptitude for meaning." His furniture was produced by several of the major international names in design production including B & B Italy, Knoll, Cassina and Vitra.
Pesce's architectural aesthetic was a "broad approach to architectural planning that includes the design of objects and employs other artistic languages and techniques." In 1977 he participated in a project to design the Pahlavi National Library in Teheran. He also designed a residential tower in Brazil (1987-89) that has a twin tower of "greenery" with vegetation that changed from floor to floor and is representative of the consistently imaginative quality of the body of Pesce's work.
Pesce is the recipient of numerous international awards including the Chrysler Design Award (1993), Design Excellence Award from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2005), and Designer of the Year for the German Magazine Architektur und Wohnen (2006). His designs are included in museums including the MoMA (New York) and the V&A Museum (London).