Call him a designer, an architect, an urban planner, a political thinker. Anything but a conformist. Gaetano Pesce is ever the proponent of new forms, techniques, and technologies, and he likes nothing more than shaking up the design landscape.
He's been at it for more than 40 years. Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, he studied architecture and industrial design at the Università IUAV di Venezia. Soon after he completed his studies, he left Italy for a decade of travels that took him to Finland, Japan, and the U.S. He subsequently settled in London, then in Paris. He's lived since 1983 in New York, where he started out teaching architecture at the Cooper Union and now heads Pesce Ltd.
Part of Pesce's genius has been to prod industry titans beyond their comfort level-Cassina, B&B Italia, and Meritalia among them. "Finding new ways to work has been important historically. I suggest how to manufacture each piece so it looks unique," he says. The stylized I Feltri wing chair in wool felt, the boldly colored polyester-resin Sansone I table, the biomorphic Nobody's Perfect bed in resin and steel. Weird and wonderful when introduced, they're now part of the contemporary cannon.
Perhaps his most classic-and recognizable-creations are the chairs in the Up series, which debuted in 1969 at Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile and were reissued in 2000 by B&B Italia. "It's the first political object in modern industrial design," Pesce claims. "It resembles the ' female body, with ball and chain."
Polyurethane, colored resin, and synthetic wool, mixed with glue, are all materials favored by this Renaissance man. His ceaseless experimentation has its roots in a love of history. "When someone expresses himself in a certain time, he does so with the tools and materials being discovered then," he says. "Stone or wood are from another moment." As draftsman, painter, and sculptor, Pesce likewise works in varied materials, with many of his pieces owing a debt to Arte Povera.
His permanent installations at arts institutions include his massive glass-and-steel chandeliers at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, France. His work has also appeared in several temporary shows-the Biennale di Venezia and the Triennale di Milano in the last few years alone. In 2005, the Philadelphia Museum of Art honored him with a retrospective, "Pushing the Limits."
Compared to Pesce's prolific output of furnishings, his interiors and buildings are few. "It's harder to be innovative in architecture. People don't take risks," he points out. An exception to that was adman Jay Chiat, who collaborated with Pesce in 1995 on the colorful New York office of TBWA\Chiat\Day.
Pesce has found fewer restrictions in Brazil: That's why he built his house in Bahia. The two-story structure is clad in jewel-toned resin tile, an inexpensive material that stands up to sun and water.
The ever global Pesce is now in negotiations with a furniture manufacturer in Manila. Back in his native Italy, he has converted a 16th-century Florentine workshop into Il Cestello restaurant, and he's designing a library in Lovere.