An Italian radical in Manhattan | Gaetano Pesce

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Visionary designer Gaetano Pesce has been creating iconoclastic furniture and art for four decades. He calls New York City home, but has no time for American design

An Italian radical in Manhattan | Gaetano Pesce

I moved to New York in 1983 – I started to have a relationship very early in my career with the museums here. For sure, it’s the centre of the world. Life is easy, the shops don’t close. The city is always changing and moving. It’s an interesting place still.

I am still fortunate enough to be able to go for work to Italy very often. It is very pleasant to have that contact with Italy. Italy is a fantastic country but a little bit… tight, a little small. I go for five days and have a nice time and I don’t have time to be bored. Three days in Venice, two in Florence, five in Rome, it’s fantastic. And it’s where I’m from.

I don’t really believe in American culture. Look at architecture – in France, Mitterand started the Big Works, Le Grand Travaux, in 1981. Here, Gehry did a building six years ago. For architecture the American milieu is very conservative. We don’t talk about design here – when they talk about design, they are talking about the design we did in Italy 60 years ago.

Look at Michael Kors! He’s a disaster! And this is the most advanced designer in the U.S.?

Yes, there have been great American designers. There were the Eames brothers. They were pioneers during that specific moment in American history. Design was a culture that originated with the Shakers. The Shakers invented functional art through their objects. America was very advanced in that moment, but after, when things became more experimental… there was nothing. It’s the same thing for fashion, there is no interesting American designer. Look at Michael Kors! He’s a disaster! And this is the most advanced designer in the U.S.? Art and experimentation have nothing to do with money. You create the idea, then later the idea can make money. And I’m talking about New York here, so imagine what the rest of America looks like.

I never look to the past. Recently I went to Egypt and I was exploring the temples. I took a piece of stone from one of the buildings. I took it. I didn’t buy it. I know I wasn’t supposed to. It was a corner fragment that was detached and on the ground. I wasn’t enjoying the experience of the visit because, as with Macchu Picchu, I feel there’s a heavy presence of human suffering with the temples in Egypt. They were prepared to kill a million people, just to construct a building.

Gaetano Pesce's studio in SoHo, New York City

Gaetano Pesce’s studio in SoHo, New York City

The most advanced work in the modern age is still being done in Italy, because design is not only done by the creative person, it is done by the industrialist and vendors, and the representatives to spread the ideas. For that reason, I believe that Italy is still the country for design.

People must fight globalization. The day that globlization happens, we will have nothing to say. Globalization is the same thing as the International Style in architecture, or the Communist ideology. We must fight and convince factories to make products that relate to a certain place, and not an abstract scene. Objects need to communicate, just like anything. The place of manufacture is also important. The idea of standardization with objects is so deep that it is difficult to change. That may change in the future.

With technology we can transform an expensive product into one that isn’t. The ‘Up’ chair is not relatively expensive – around $3k. But my ‘Night in New York’ chair is – the fabric is very expensive. It costs around $20k. It is true for certain things. Research is expensive. Testing out materials is expensive.

Gaetano Pesce's studio in SoHo, New York City

Gaetano Pesce’s studio in SoHo, New York City

Technology for me is all about the capacity and potential of new materials. I do not use 3D printing. We have a place where we do all this work, our workshop in Brooklyn. When we need this kind of thing, we go to where they have it. I am currently doing a serpentine shaped piece, with gas inside – so fluid that it is able to create cold around the serpentine – the same gas they use in fridges. This drawing, when its working, it will change form – ice creates the drawing. We went to a certain number of engineers to make it happen. We don’t know all the technology that General Motors have!

Is it art or design? This is difficult to answer. At the time of Impressionists, the public didn’t see the impressionists as artists, but time revealed them to be the true artists. So only time will tell. I think they are the same thing. We have the Museum of Arts and Design here in New York and I asked the director why they repeat themselves in their name? Art is design. Design is art. Same thing. C

 

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