Designer and Architect Gaetano Pesce Dead at 84

MILAN — Italian architect and industrial designer Gaetano Pesce has died at 84, according to a post Thursday morning on his official Instagram account.

“Over the course of six decades, Gaetano revolutionized the worlds of art, design, architecture and the liminal spaces between these categories. His originality and nerve are matched by none,” the post stated.

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Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce studied architecture at the University of Venice and was a participant in Gruppo N, a collective concerned with programmed art patterned after the Bauhaus.

The post said that over the last year Pesce had been dealing with health-related issues.

“Gaetano remained positive, playful and ever curious. He is survived by his children, family and all who adored him. His uniqueness, creativity and special message live on through his art,” it said.

Tramonto a New York, Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1980.
Tramonto a New York, Gaetano Pesce for Cassina, 1980.

According to his website, Pesce’s work is featured in more than 30 permanent collections of the most important museums in the world, such as MoMa of New York and San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum in New York, Vitra Museum in Germany, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Pompidou Center and Musee des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

In October, the Museum of Arts and Design recognized Gaetano as a “visionary” in the fields of art, architecture and design. For the occasion, filmmaker Chiara Clemente produced a short film chronicling Gaetano’s career and lifetime achievement.

“I cannot say that my work is elegant, it’s not. I cannot say that my work is practical, but maybe my work makes people think,” he said.

Pesce taught architecture at the Institut d’Architecture et d’Etudes Urbaines in Strasbourg, France, for 28 years, at the Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, at the Domus Academy in Milan, at the Polytechinc of Hong Kong, the Architectural School of Sao Paulo and at the Cooper Union in New York City. After living in Venice, London, Paris and Helsinki, Finland, he made New York City his home in 1980. In Venice, he said in the film, he learned about the power of color thanks to the city’s vibrant hues and water reflections. “Venice is color….New York is the capital of the world…full of energy,” he reminisced.

Among his most seminal furniture pieces are the Tramonto, a New York sofa for Cassina in 1980, and the 1969 Up 50 armchair for B&B Italia that he made in the shape of a woman with an affixed ball ottoman, which was a representation of imprisonment.

As a sculptor, he embraced synthetic materials that he argued could trace their origins to nature and the ground. Resin, foam and silicone captured both the sort of transparency and color Pesce sought to achieve in his jubilant and sometimes provocative works.

“Gaetano Pesce is the Madonna of design.…He is a mover of culture,” said ceramicist Jonathan Adler when Pesce received the Andrée Putnam Lifetime Achievement award in January.

Pesce’s relevance in the fashion industry only grew over time. For one, in 2022 Pesce designed 400 resin chairs for Matthieu Blazy’s sophomore show for Bottega Veneta, each with a unique resin finish, some with hand-drawings, that were later made available for purchase.

For Milan’s Salone del Mobile last year, Pesce additionally created limited-edition handcrafted bags for Bottega Veneta — his first time designing bags — as part of the brand’s installation staged in a grotto made of resin and fabric. The bags were figurative, and more artworks than not, as the Intrecciato weave showed two mountains with a sunrise or sunset behind made with airbrush and crochet techniques.

“One of the greatest honors and pleasures of my life and career was getting to know and work with Gaetano,” Blazy said to WWD on Thursday. “As a teenager, his work’s humanity and radical joyfulness made me look at the world differently. As an adult, meeting and working with the man, one with an endless spirit of radical, optimistic and beautiful humanity changed my life once more.”

“Of the many things that came out of this meeting is a chair called ‘Come stai?’ And there are many other memories of drinking, singing, whistling and eating together — times with Gaetano that nourished the body and the soul, just as his work will continue to do so,” Blazy continued.

“When we first met, Gaetano gave me a book. I asked him if he could sign it, and he wrote, ‘Hi Matthieu, Come stai? Gaetano.’ When he returned it, he said: ‘You know, Matthieu, sometimes things won’t be easy, but if you open the book and read the question ‘Come stai?’ the answer should always be ‘Tutto bene’ [All good]. Today is one of those times. I am looking at the book and remembering Gaetano’s humanity and joyful belief in the future… Tutto bene, Gaetano.”

MSGM designer Massimo Giorgetti, who in 2022 also took cues from Pesce’s furniture designs for his colorful pre-fall collection, mentioned a favorite quote in remembering the designer.

“He will be missed by everyone. We will miss the designer, the artist, his craziness and his colors,” Giorgetti said. “As for me, I will personally miss Gaetano the philosopher and his [thoughts]. One of these, especially: ‘Diversity is vital: without it, we wouldn’t have anything to say to each other.’”

MSGM Pre-Fall 2022
MSGM pre-fall 2022

Pesce had plans for the upcoming Milan Design Week. The Ambrosiana Library is expected to unveil “Nice to See You,” an exhibit of 30 of his most recent works, between April 15 and 23. In addition, and in collaboration with the City of Milan, Pesce was expected to showcase an installation entitled “L’Uomo Stanco” (Italian for the tired man) in Piazza San Pio XI, right in front of the library.

— With contributions from Sandra Salibian

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