In Five Designs

Gaetano Pesce in five designs

New York

5 October 2012

The second in Disegno's biography series sees the Venetian designer and architect Gaetano Pesce summarise his career in five objects. "I'm 84 and I've been designing for 50 years," says Pesce. "I don't look 84 though; I look 72."

Cassina, 1972 IMAGE Gaetano Pesce

Golgotha Table
"I made this piece together with a chair, and the pair were intended to reference the Last Supper. Golgotha is the mount where Jesus Christ was crucified. The table was built upside down, so that all the mortar seems to flow upwards. In the crucifixion they say that Jesus Christ went upwards into the sky - into paradise - and I wanted the design to reference that. For most people, design is something very simple and practical, but with Golgotha I wanted to say that design could also express more serious matters like religion."

Pesce was born in La Spezia, Italy and studied architecture at the University of Venice. After graduating from the school in 1965, he moved between London, Padova, Helsinki and Paris, practicing both design and architecture, before settling in New York in 1980. "Manhattan and Venice are very similar," says Pesce. "I've always lived in places surrounded by water. I like to look out over it."

Pesce's interest in water has now manifested itself in a new exhibition of tables at David Gill Galleries in London. The exhibition, Six Tables on Water, features resin furniture modelled after bodies of water such as oceans, lagoons, ponds and puddles.

The exhibition is typical of Pesce, a designer whose work with resin has come to characterise his career. The literalness with which Pesce's tables approach their subject matter is also familiar. "Abstraction is boring and limited as a mode of expression," he says. "Reducing and reducing designs means that at the end you have nothing. Strong, straightforward images are more powerful."

Pesce's design selections for this article demonstrate his belief that design and architecture are predominantly mediums for self-expression and creativity. "Minimalism was an important step in the creation of modern design, but it's over," he says. "It's good for IKEA and places like that, but has very little to do with design. Design is now about making something richer than minimalism."

Below, Pesce talks Disegno through his five designs.

Vitra, 1969 IMAGE Gaetano Pesce

UP5 and UP6 / "The Mamma Chair"
"The Mamma chair was a very important piece for me. I got the the idea from prisoners in the past and the ball and chains they wore; in this case the ball is a comfortable ottoman. There is also the symbolism of the chair as a female body and that connection with the ball. The meaning is that women have been prisoners of prejudice; even today, they suffer. It's important for me that objects express a duality: one practical, one cultural. Design is a very adult form of expression. The chair is very comfortable, but it also tries to say something about our society."

Cassina, 1980 IMAGE Gaetano Pesce

Sansone Table
"The future of design is not in standardised products, but rather in unique pieces. When I made the Sansone for Cassina, I remember people coming into the showroom and saying "We want that table." But they couldn't have it; I could make them something similar, but not exactly the same. I was inspired by a beautiful story from Japan about ten teacups: the first one was perfect; the second had a little fault; the third, a few more faults. The last one was like a rag: uttery destroyed. The story says that the first one was the least expensive, while the last one was so expensive that only the emperor could afford it. Why? Because that last one was the most full of personality. Design should be unique and sublime."

Osaka, 1993 IMAGE Gaetano Pesce

Organic Building
"The organic building was built quite a long time ago, but today there are more and more architects following the basic idea behind it: a building that allowed nature to grow around it. Trees grow in the fa├žade and it was one of the first examples of the idea of a vertical garden. I think we need gardens, because human-built spaces are just too rigid; we need gardens for better living. I built the structure in Osaka and afterwards the city offered to pay for its maintenance. It changes colours with the season and that interests me. Things are always changing and that's exciting. Only conservative people don't like change."

Milan, 2007 IMAGE Gaetano Pesce

The Pink Pavilion
"My last choice is the Pink Pavilion, a building I made for the Triennale museum in Milan. I built it using a very innovative technique, which was to only use foam in the construction. Rigid polyurethane is a very structured material and it is also an insulator, so if it's very hot outside the pavilion, inside it's fresh; if it's cold outside, it's warm inside. It's the same material used in thermoses. It was an important project for me because it was showed that we can build with materials other than concrete, glass or metal. I like to surprise people; to create things they're not expecting."