Remembering Gaetano Pesce, Italian Master of Design

Looking back at the life of Italian designer Gaetano Pesce, who died, aged 84, and his immense contribution to the art world.

Gaetano Pesce, the Italian pioneer of design and material innovation, has died, aged 84. Long-hailed in the art world for his avant-garde, radical approach to design, Pesce recently became a fashion industry favorite for his close collaboration with Bottega Venetta, known for the swirling resin rainbow that exhibited the maison’s 2023 summer collection. 

Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce studied architecture at the University of Venice. He was obsessed with finding materials and forms that permitted the standardized production of unique pieces. In 1969, he designed “Up,” an armchair with a shape reminiscent of a prehistoric fertility goddess that, although mass-produced, is still unique. It is delivered as a compressed disc, which, when unwrapped, expands like a sponge into its bulbous forms, with an attached footstool shaped like a ball and chain. The “Up” series immediately became a design icon.

In spite of its cheery appearance, the chair comes with a serious message from the Italian designer: “Despite themselves, women have always been prisoners of the prejudice and fears of men. Along these lines, I liked the idea of giving this armchair a feminine shape with a ball and chain, the traditional image of the prisoner,” he once said. In the early 1970s, thanks to materials such as expanded polyurethane, Pesce was able to create unique pieces like “Up” that could be mass-produced from the same mold.

The candleholders from the “Candelabro” series were made of another flexible material, resin, which takes on a unique shape when it hardens, once again creating one-of-a-kind pieces from mass production. In 1972, each “Golgotha” chair, another major design by Pesce, was made of resin-soaked fiberglass cloth, which also allowed chance and imperfection to become an integral part of the final design of a mass-produced product.

A longer version of this feature was originally published in Mastermind 13 – buy it here.

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