Gaetano Pesce’s vision is eternally young. The Italian designer, architect and artistic icon, who celebrated his 83rd birthday last year, has spent his career looking to the future – in turn developing a reputation for aesthetics that are difficult to associate with any time period.
Now, an exhibition at The Future Perfect gallery in Los Angeles presents a timeline of his work – from classic pieces like his Up chair to new work created specifically for the show. Her title, “Dear Future,” says Pesce, was born out of her preference to look forward rather than backward. “I always appreciate the future as I’m bored with the present,” he says, speaking from his studio in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. “The past teaches us what can happen in the future, but the future is my goal. If people don’t like the future, they’re stupid.” An unexpected take, perhaps, from someone who has so much past behind him. But it certainly explains the way he has continually pushed the boundaries of what is expected of him.
“My career is not monolithic, but fragmented”
Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce arrived in the world at a time of conflict. A few months before his birthday in November, Germany invaded Poland, signaling the start of World War II. Even now, when in conversation with Pesce, the topic of politics is ever-present, and it doesn’t take long for an answer to a simple question about his work to come back into a wider social context.
“The world was homogenized because of the dictators and lost many values linked to cultures and places”, he says. “With my work, people can understand what it means to disappear these unique values and try to find the importance in the diversity of places and people.” He adds: “the environment uniquely influences its inhabitant. If (Jorge Luis) Borges had not written from Buenos Aires, but was writing in Stockholm, would his stories be different?”
Always being up to date with the times contributed to Pesce’s Midas touch. He has historically loathed the version of modernity that produces standardized results in architecture, and as a young man he felt there was more to be learned. Eventually, he embarked on his varied creative journey with a degree in architecture from the University of Venice – but he credits his desire to make it his life’s work to a woman named Milene Vittore.
The duo met while traveling from their hometown of Padua to their respective schools. At the time, Caetano was studying architecture and Vittore was a student at an Italian design school considered innovative and with a vision of the future. “Since I didn’t want to pay for the ticket, I was traveling on the net where you put your bags and it accompanied me”, he says.
Throughout his journeys, Pesce says he discovered a new meaning of design through his descriptions. They would reflect on their interpretations of the practice, gathering thoughts and ideas for projects that exemplified a new era of object design. “Back then, design was about form following function,” he says. “For us, that wasn’t acceptable – we thought, ‘We’re young and we want to see design as an expression.’ The idea was that design is always very practical: if you design a chair, for example, it needs to be comfortable, but in the meantime, the chair can express meaning. This is the new design, the design of the future.”
Putting this into practice, Pesce spent the years between 1958 and 1963 participating in the design collective “Gruppo N.” He quickly aligned himself with the Radical Design movement, joining a generation of Italian architects revolted against the functionalist character of 20th-century Modernism – trivialized in a period of social and economic instability across the country. “If modernist architecture and design disregarded the individual and tried to standardize the human spirit, Pesce’s life’s work was to overthrow prescriptive modes of thought – a form of counter-design that favors incoherence, unpredictability, eccentricity and originality,” says Future Perfect Gallery Founder David Alhadeff. “Its future is not a myth – it is an achievable reality free of war, inequality and uniformity, where human individualism is expressed in objects and style.”
Pesce’s career to date has seen him create buildings around the world and collections with the world’s biggest brands. Stylistically, the creative polymath has become known for his experimental use of colors, shapes and materials, whether in a furniture design or a residential building. His “Up Chair” – affectionately known as the “Mamma” thanks to its feminine shape – was designed for B&B Italia in 1969 and combines voluptuous shapes to create an enveloping seat, complete with a ball-shaped ottoman held together by a string. His “Organic Building” in Osaka, completed in 1993, has been described as a forerunner of the now common living walls, thanks to its ceramic facade panels, each with space to contain a green plant.
But despite being created decades earlier, their designs have probably never been as successful as they are now.
In an article for Curbed, writer Matthew Schneier declared that 2021 was the year the world “finally caught up” with Pesce. “No rapper has yet checked their Pesce’s name on a verse, although if you know what to look for you will have noticed that KAWS has a Pesce, as does Urs Fischer, as does Christine Quinn from Selling Sunset, and that one of their armchairs recently did a cameo in the new Gossip Girl,” he added. It’s fair to say that Schneier’s observation was correct, as 2022 turned out to be an exciting year for the designer too, from new collaborations with Cassina to creating the set and furniture for Bottega Veneta’s Spring/Summer 2023 show. “My career is not monolithic, but fragmented”, says Pesce, about its multidisciplinary nature.
This unsystematic work is evident in “Dear Future”. Within Goldwyn House, the pieces are scattered throughout the domestic environment – both in harmony with the surroundings, whilst also contrasting strongly, all at the same time.
Many of your preconceptions, conceptual obsessions, and lifelong questions are cleared up. For example, their commitment to creating “mass-produced originals”, defined by collections each containing the human touch, can be seen in the “Nobody’s Perfect” series (2002/2019-present). For the exhibition, he created two new editions of the series, both in vibrant, translucent and fluid resin. The human relationship with nature crosses water and land through works elsewhere, from River Table (2012), a rare work from his series, Six Tables on Water, to a new series of multicolored resin Rock Lamps (2022). , shaped from stones collected by Pesce himself.
The show’s sweeping conclusion is a story of originality—a special kind of originality that only occurs every once in a while, let alone amidst an image-saturated digital landscape. Replicating that would be impossible, a lesson Pesce has been teaching his students for decades.
“When I was teaching, I would tell students ‘try to be different – don’t do what I do,’” he says, as a final thought. “Find your vocabulary, find your language, because each of us in there has a lot to discover.”
Dear Future is on view through March 31 at The Future Perfect’s Los Angeles outpost.
the perfect future
1800 Camino Palmero Street
Los Angeles, USA