Into the Mind of Innovative Creator Gaetano Pesce

In the center of the Venn diagram that overlaps "artist," "philosopher," "designer" and "architect" sits Gaetano Pesce. The 73-year-old Italian has spent more than a half century designing objects that defy description, furniture fraught with deeper meaning and buildings so visionary that most have never been built.

He has crafted ashtrays in the shape of bleeding hands, doorways overhung by buttocks and sofas that pay homage to the Manhattan skyline. No color has been neglected, and no material has been safe: Rags and extruded polyurethane have been formed into armchairs; vinyl disks have been turned into shoes. Resin? It's to Mr. Pesce as teak was to the Danes.

Every Gaetano Pesce project is a brave experiment, and he values humanity and expression over perfection. But amid the curiosities and eyebrow-raisers, there have been iconic achievements.

His 1993 Organic Building in Osaka, Japan—its facade sprouting with a grid of planters—predated today's hanging gardens and living walls, and his 1969 Up5 chair is among the 20th Century's most instantly recognizable pieces. A Manhattanite since 1980, Gaetano Pesce is enjoying his first one-man New York show at Fred Torres Collaborations (through May 25). The Wall Street Journal recently talked with Mr. Pesce about Raphael as a pioneering multitasker, Darwin as exemplar and his love of unconventionally pretty feet.

I am always evolving.
I get tired of the way I think and so I change almost continuously. My career is characterized by different periods. For example there was a period of "badly done." I thought that machines were being used to make things perfect, and a machine is not human. Perfection is not our characteristic. I had the idea of beauty with mistakes instead of beauty as perfection.

My work is influenced by politics.
There was a time when I was very committed to showing—not talking about—political issues and a political point of view. I did a chair that was recognizable as the body of a woman connected with a chain to a ball, to show that women are prisoners [Up5 chair and Up6 ottoman, 1969].

An industrial object says much more than fine art.
It's talking about culture, it's talking about technology, it's talking about material. But more than that, it's talking about marketing, advertising—every part of life in our time.

One of my role models is Raphael.
He showed that you can be a designer, you can be a painter, you can be a sculptor.

When I was 16, I was a tennis player.
If I didn't become a designer, I think that's what I would have wanted to have done. It's a fantastic sport.

In the time of the French Revolution it was very important to fight for equality.
I think today it is important to fight for a diversified life.

Marcel Duchamp was more important than Picasso.
Picasso was still stuck in the romantic period. But Duchamp understood that the romantic era was over.

Frank Gehry is a very good guy.
Very creative, very humble, but at the same time respected for what he does. [His Guggenheim Museum Bilbao] is very strong. Other architects are much more ready to compromise.

I have never in my life eaten meat.
My diet is vegetables, sometimes fish.

I hate repetition.
I think that one day we will have buildings with each floor designed by a different architect. With the technology we have now, this would be possible. There's nothing left to be done with geometric forms—triangles, rectangles, that kind of stuff.

I always try new materials.
Now I am trying to see if I can find a material that is light like a cloud.

When I was younger, I spent my life with classical music because my mother was a pianist.
Now I find electronica and lounge music very relaxing. Some of my favorites are Nacho Sotomayor, Chambao, Télépopmusik and Lucio Dalla.

Feet intrigue me.
Years ago, I went through a period of enjoying women with big feet. Everyone has their own way of enjoying beauty.

My father was from Florence and my mother was from Venice, and I grew up between those two cities.
I go to Italy almost every month, and I believe Italian culture is super important. But you can't think about just "Italy" because it has so many regions and identities.

After architecture school I lived in London for six years.
Then from London I moved to Helsinki because Helsinki at that time was very important for architects. Then I moved to Paris for a long time. Now I have been in New York for 32 years, because this is a city with all the services, where everything is easy. I know there was a time when it had less energy, but I believe, in looking around the world, that New York City is now the most powerful place to live.

Some people say the past was much better, that today everybody is so weak and so bad.
I don't see that. I think our time is the best. For instance, the iPhone that carries my music. If I had to use traditional records, I would need a car just to bring them along.

I recently reread "Oriental Tales," by Marguerite Yourcenar.

Also, a biography of Charles Darwin: He was a simple man who concentrated intensely on what he was doing, without paying attention to what other people said or to political correctness. You learn not only about the origins of humans and other species, but about his huge curiosity and how he was able to turn that into knowledge.

I don't believe in static things.
I believe that our time is liquid, and that reality and values change from one hour to another.

In the 1990s I designed a house in northern Brazil.
I couldn't build the Bahia House anywhere else because of regulations. When I tried to sell the house, which has never been finished, a construction company approached me, wanting to [destroy it and] build banal condominiums. But a photographer who lived nearby phoned a friend in St. Petersburg who collected my work. She decided to buy it—not only to keep the house, but to finish the other parts of the project. It's proof that miracles still happen.

— Edited from an interview by Jim Sutherland

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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