The Memory of Objects, an Interview with Gaetano Pesce


An unrelenting research on new materials, an unrestrained use of colour, the political dimension of his projects, the handcrafted quality of his creations make Gaetano Pesce one of the greatest and most unconventional artists of Italian contemporary design scene. His career is studded with memorable masterpieces, which blur the distinction between art and design: from “Up” (1969), a series of “feminine” anthropomorphic armchairs which exploit the morphological memory of the polyurethane, returning to their shape and consistency as soon as they are freed from their packaging, to the “Rag Chair” (1972) and the “Sit Down” seat furniture (1975), based on the intriguing idea of having no two pieces alike. Other notable works include the “Dalila” chairs (1980), whose sensuous shape intentionally evokes the soft forms of the female body, the humorous “Umbrella” chair (1995), which folds up like an umbrella and opens out like its namesake, and “Sessantuna” (2010), sixty-one different tables, all of them unique, to celebrate Italy on the 150th anniversary of its unification.

Mr. Pesce, where do you find inspiration for keeping your creativity high?

“My creativity comes from observing street life and the ordinary values that are part of that world. In some cases the ordinary becomes the extraordinary and in that case they become synonymous of our age.”

Once you said that objects are “documents on reality”: what does contemporary Italian design say about the present state of Italy?

“For sure the objects are the documents of the society in which we are living. By observing them we are able to understand the level of evolution of our historical moment.”

What does Italian design mean to you?

“Italian design is the most advanced art expression in this moment. It includes the best technological, economical and philosophical languages of our period.”

As for technological languages, how has the technological development changed the designers’ work over the years?

“Technological development gave to design the possibility to make limited production at reasonable cost without having to make large production.”

In this respect, do you think that Italian design can be a driving force for economic recovery?

“Absolutely. I think Italian design can help the country’s economy to become more performing.”

You have been living and working in New York for many years. What is your perspective on Italy now that you look at the country from a distance, and what differences or similarities can you see between the two countries with regard to your work as a designer?

“Now that I have been living in New York since a long time I can see the difference between Italian and American cultures, and it consists of depth. In Italy for sure people are more sensitive to progress of culture and knowledge in the art field than in the US.”

You have contributed to the history of Italian design and architecture with many excellent creations. What is the work you are most proud of? Can you tell us an anecdote about it?

“One of the most important objects I designed is, in my opinion, the UP 5 chair. This object is a commentary on women’s condition in our historical moment. Until today women are prisoners of prejudices including in the most evolved countries without mentioning the less evolved ones such as the Islamic countries, China and African countries, to name a few. It was the first time that a chair was able to express a political content. A funny anecdote regarding this chair happened in Italy. The chair was then sold in an envelop under vacuum reducing its original volume by 8. A truck full of these chairs / envelops was traveling from Milan to Roma and got into an accident when another truck hit it in the back. In the accident one of the packaging got broken and the chair inside of it immediately expanded, leading to break the other packaging and other chairs to expand. At the end, all these chairs protected the back of the truck from being totally destroyed. Also the chairs ended up falling on the highway and by doing so transformed it into a domestic landscape.”