||Gaetano Pesce is a man with an extremely flexible mind. By profession hes an architect and an industrial designer. By nature hes an intellectual, a subversive, a prankster, and an innovator.
Since he began to design furniture and objects in Italy in the 1960s, Pesce has made it his mission never to back down from strange ideas. He pursues them until they are realized, no matter how impossible they may seem at first. Whats even more remarkable, Pesce treats each new building, lamp, vase, or chair, as if it were his first. Thats what makes his body of work iconic and thats what makes Pesce himself so inspiring.
CORY: Ill start with a personal question. Are you aware how popular your work is with young designers?
GAETANO: No, I have no idea. But I hope they follow the central idea of my work, which is that we can be free if we want to. Most people dont care about freedom, because it is a concept that is very difficult to live out. But me, I care about freedom a lot.
CORY: How do you define it?
GAETANO: Freedom is incoherence. Its the liberty to think differently from how you were thinking yesterday. Freedom is a challenge, because it means you must embrace and fight for new ideas all the time.
CORY: You used the term incoherent. Thats a strong word.
GAETANO: Yes. You know, I remember Leo Castelli saw my work in 1972 at
The New Domestic Landscape show at MoMA. Afterwards he said, I
would like to come see your current work. He was interested, but he was
worried that it might have changed. He said, If you want to be represented
by a gallery, you will have to continue to do the same work more or less forever.
Are you ready to do that? And I said, No.
PETER: He really asked you that?
GAETANO: Yeah. But he was very sincere, which I appreciated. However, I was not willing to do that. To this day I am bored by my previous work. It reminds me what I was doing yesterday and the day before. I only like to think of the future.
PETER: So youre not interested in making Gaetano Pesce a kind of brand name, like Prada or Ralph Lauren?
GAETANO: No. I think that before everything else, the intellectual has to be a traitor. Because the intellectual is someone who tells you one thing now, and then when you understand it, he tells you the converse. And thats how I am known in the world, because I refuse to fix my position. People dont trust me, because they never know where Ill go, or what kind of things Ill say. That is why I have relatively few clients, though theyre all very good.
CORY: Your work may be hard to pin down, but theres a very interesting evolution.
GAETANO: Progress in art has always been about the evolution of materials, expression, and techniques. All my work has come about as the result of wanting to express something new. I believe the old materials are not enough for the complexity of our time. Following that line of thought, I have felt the need to change constantly because new materials always provoke me.
CORY: Youve chosen resin as your primary, signature material. Is that because resin is the most contemporary-feeling material to you?
GAETANO: Its very rich. No traditional material has the same capacity its strong, its translucent, it carries color. And because of my process, each object is inherently different.
CORY: In your work, multiple pieces are made from the same mold, but each piece is poured individually. So each piece is both mass-produced and unique at once. But you dont pour the resin yourself, do you?
GAETANO: On the contrary, especially if I am researching something special, I do it myself.
CORY: Isnt resin considered a dangerous material?
GAETANO: Not anymore. Anyway, I am still around! And I work without a lot of protective clothing because I was never able to follow the instructions. [laughs]
CORY: When I look around your studio, I do sense a daring attitude. Theres a strong optimism.
GAETANO: Well, the moment you believe in the future, you are an optimist. And by making, and doing, and thinking, you transform the future into the present. The future is a very beautiful creature. The past is not.
CORY: So are you never nostalgic?
GAETANO: No. Because I dont know of anything better than whats happening today.
CORY: I have to say, theres an outrageous sense of humor in your work.
GAETANO: It is very, very important never to take yourself too seriously.
CORY: Well, which other artists do you admire for their humor.
GAETANO: I like Charles Bukowski, the poet. He was quite a strong personality. And more than Picasso, I think the great artistic mind of the twentieth century was Marcel Duchamp. I mean, he saw the industrial object as a complete artistic expression. He also understood that it was necessary to deal with technology, marketing, and advertising, which traditional romantic art had not. He was radical as well as ironic of course, he didnt take himself too seriously either. Playing chess was more important to him than art.
PETER: His famous line was, I like breathing better than working.
GAETANO: Another person whose humor I admire is Salvador Dali. He did incredible things with a smile. Critics dont like people who smile. They like people who are tragic which doesnt interest me at all.
PETER: Dali has regained prominence in the last ten years or so. He used to be vilified as the worst-of-the-worst.
GAETANO: Dali was all about performance. As early as the 30s, he organized a kind of performance piece in Paris where he rode a horse like an ancient warrior, holding a jousting stick right through a huge painting. He destroyed it. He was doing that kind of work long before a lot of other people. Another time, he sold all the work in one of his exhibitions, exchanged all of the checks for paper money, and then piled the cash outside the gallery like a small mountain. Then he burned it.
CORY: [laughing] Did you ever meet Dali?
GAETANO: Yes, but he was quite old. The guy was very considerate. He joked, but he was not a joke at all. He had a very advanced mind. For instance, he understood the importance of the image, especially his own. Also, he played with rich people.
CORY: Like Warhol.
GAETANO: Yeah, Warhol was so important. But I think he was often unaware of what he was doing at the time. The greatest thing about him was that he was multidisciplinary, which is so essential nowadays he was not only a painter, but a publisher, a designer, a person who worked in advertising. He made clothes.
CORY: Speaking of that, you also make jewelry.
GAETANO: Well, I dont believe in barriers to creativity. One day I thought, Why not make a bracelet? Ive also made movies. I made a record. The way I see it, when I have an idea to express, I simply have to decide if that idea is better expressed by architecture or another medium. People tend to define themselves: I am an artist, or I am a lawyer. But a person is only a lawyer for a certain part of the day, not all the time. When you finish your work, you walk down the street like any other person. It is essential to do things differently every day. Otherwise you risk routine, you risk repetition, and your brain will die.
CORY: How do you start a project?
GAETANO: I try to see if there is a way to be innovative. First I try to suggest a new way to use materials. If its an architectural project, I try to evolve the existing concept. I am never interested in form or elegance. My work has never really been formal.
CORY: Thats why the originality of your work jumps out.
GAETANO: Yes, but my work is also very easy, because I dont work in the traditional way.
CORY: How so?
GAETANO: Working in the traditional way means constantly looking back to all these incredible personalities who did important work before you. But one shouldnt compete with historical figures. There should be no one in front of you, nor behind you only innovation.
CORY: I know you travel a lot. Are you always so restless?
GAETANO: Ive always moved around at this point it has become a way of life. I cannot stay in a place more than two weeks, because I think each city has a specific complexity that can only satisfy a persons curiosity for a certain time. There are little cities where you can stay for three days, four days. In a medium city, you can stay a week. In New York you can stay a maximum of two weeks. After that, its boring. London, maybe twelve days. Paris, ten. For a Western person, I think Tokyo is like New York you can stay two weeks. Although for a Japanese person, maybe Tokyo is only interesting for eight days. [laughs]
CORY: I know youre working on a project in Avignon, France.
GAETANO: Yes, Im building a number of small buildings in an old, historic park there that attracts thousands of tourists every year. One piece is already done its a little restaurant called the Gourmand Pavilion.
CORY: It looks like a clear square igloo. Whats it made of?
GAETANO: Silicon. Are you surprised?
CORY: Well, yes. How do you make a building out of silicon?
GAETANO: You start with a mold and you inject the silicon in layers until you have a certain thickness. When the material is dry, you just take the mold away. Structurally, it supports itself there is nothing holding it up.
CORY: So the walls are soft?
GAETANO: Yeah, theyre elastic. And light shines through them in an incredible way.
CORY: Wow. Is it temporary?
GAETANO: No, no. These buildings should last forever. Silicon is the most sophisticated material we have. In fact, its what restorers use to save all the old cathedrals in Europe. They inject silicon into the stone.
CORY: And what about the project youre doing in Brazil?
GAETANO: When I was working there years ago, I saw a piece of land in Bahia, which I bought for myself. I decided to do what no one client has allowed me to do, which is to construct a home out of all new materials. Im working on it from far away, so its difficult. The builders stop because they dont know what to do, or they make mistakes and I have to rebuild.
CORY: Im sure theyve never built anything like it. What sort of materials are you using?
GAETANO: Resin, of course. Its resistant to the rain, to salt erosion, X-rays. Im also using natural rubber, foam, and silicon.
PETER: Its usually the case with architects that their work is spread out all over the world. For that reason, its hard for most people to really get to know an architects work.
GAETANO: Look, I think the best way to win a war is with guerilla tactics. You fight for five minutes and then you disappear. The enemy doesnt know where you are. My life is this way. I dont like to be on the scene all the time I go with my interests. I do something and then I move on.
PETER: On the other hand, one of the famous UP chairs the one with the ball-and-chain was sold at a major Sothebys auction a couple years ago. Your reputation is perhaps a bit underground, but your work is certainly of interest to sophisticated collectors.
GAETANO: That particular chair is well-known because it talks about the human condition. It brings up the image of a prisoner and asks questions about freedom. That was quite a strong statement in the 60s. But in general I have not had a lot of commissions, because people are afraid of innovation.
CORY: What about Chiat/Day? Jay Chiat commissioned you to do a radical design for the New York offices of one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world.
GAETANO: Jay is an exception. He was the first person to understand that something new had to happen in the office. He understood the power of new technology and new color. But there are not a lot of people like Jay.
PETER: Have all your furniture and objects been produced by Italian companies?
GAETANO: Yes. Italian companies are more curious, more competitive. Before the unification of Italy, the big families in each city were always pushing each other: Milan is better than Turin
Turin is better than Rome
Our only natural resource is creativity and creativity comes from challenging everything, all the time.
CORY: What about the challenge to make innovative design affordable? Im thinking of the pieces you did for Fish Design and Open Sky.
GAETANO: Talk about challenge. If you want to make things the right way, you usually cant afford innovation. I started those two companies in order to demonstrate that there is the possibility to do that. And people especially like innovation when its not expensive.
PETER: Whenever I go into the Moss store, I see three or four very nice pieces by you, all in this little luminous temple of design. Moss has been quite important in New York design circles.
GAETANO: Moss is not only a temple, its a place where we recognize energy. We go because we feel something in the air there something that is not traditional. If I go to a supermarket, I feel an energy. If I go to an art gallery, I dont feel the same level of energy. So Moss is not exactly a supermarket, but perhaps its a temple for something that we dont know yet, a new culture. I often wonder if Murray isnt doing something very important historically.
CORY: You could say hes the best curator in New York.
GAETANO: Ive followed Murray from the beginning. Hes intelligent, and he understands that the object is magic. With objects you can convey the essence of your time, your political opinions, existential questions, anything. And everyone will understand. Objects communicate on a basic level.
CORY: Basic, but powerful.
GAETANO: Yes. I wonder if art is still capable of doing that? Art used to speak to everybody. Now it talks to a small group, and the rest of society doesnt really use or consume art. But people still need objects. Objects still communicate.
PETER: Its interesting. Architects have carved out a unique position for themselves as if to say, Im not a specialist. My discipline teaches me to study, understand, and, hopefully, solve problems of any kind.
GAETANO: The complexity of the architects job is similar to that of a movie directors. You have to understand music, movement, light, dialogue, expression, money problems, investment, export issues. The difference is that architecture is generally something that stays in one place for hundreds of years. Its really a document of the philosophy and the materials of a particular time. It shows how people lived. I think architecture is the queen of the arts.
CORY: Why queen?
GAETANO: I just use the word queen because I am ready to see the feminine mentality enter more prominently into architecture. Its the way of thinking that I emphasize in my own work.
CORY: How so?
GAETANO: Our education teaches us to only use one part of the brain, the masculine side. Society has always considered the masculine thinking style better than the feminine one, in work and in life at least until twenty or thirty years ago. So now, if you express yourself with the feminine side, you will be very original. And you will be innovative. By the way, there are a lot of women who are fantastic, but they use masculine thinking methods which is horrible.
CORY: How do you characterize the feminine thought process?
GAETANO: The female brain is elastic. It is not rigid, not dogmatic, not totalitarian. Unfortunately, architecture is behind on this front in comparison to fashion.
PETER: Are you thinking of people like Rei Kawakuba at Comme des Garçons?
GAETANO: For sure. That work she did a few years ago was very important, the clothes with the deformities sewn in. I think her capacity for making a mistake is exceptional. A long time ago, I realized that we are not perfect. So why should we try to show that we are? Mistakes are humanizing. My life is a series of them, one after another. [laughs]
CORY: Your poured resin pieces are all about mistake or at least chance.
GAETANO: Yeah, Issey Miyake works the same way. He does production in series, in which each piece is different. Thats the future of production. We have the technology to give people a unique piece at the cost of a standard one. So lets go in that direction. This is no longer the time of copies, its the time of originals.
CORY: On the other hand, globalization is causing the whole world to become more standardized in many ways.
GAETANO: So the world is global. So what? I think our only reason for existence is to create difference. We have to provoke difference everywhere. That is why creativity is so important.
CORY: So youre more interested in provoking difference than making beautiful objects
GAETANO: I want to create a condition where certain elements start to react in a way that I cannot plan. Look, baking bread is a beautiful example. When you make bread, you dont worry about the quality of the form. You open the oven, the first thing you do is take a piece and taste. Art, expression, its the same thing. It is not important what the form looks like, but that the object is something that makes life more enjoyable. Because our lives are heavy. We have lots of problems. We need expression to help us have better lives lives with joy, with irony, with whatever you want.
CORY: Where do you look for stimulation, what areas of culture?
GAETANO: For me, culture is what happens on the street. A long time ago I said to myself, "Why should I have to go to the museum for culture? Why should I have to be aware of the last Ībig show? Why should I have to know about some artist or designer that I dont really care about at all?" Not caring about those things is a kind of freedom.
CORY: It must be.
GAETANO: Ill give you an example. In the eighteenth century there was a church in Venice. It was very central its still there. But people had stopped going to this church on Sundays, and the priest was worried. Then he heard that there was a young man at another church who was making a new style of music that people enjoyed very much. So the priest invited this young man to play at his own church during Sunday mass. In a few weeks, the church was full of people again. And that young guy was named Vivaldi.
CORY: [laughing] Thats great.
GAETANO: Sometimes I wonder why we even go to concerts today. Do we have to be so serious? Does no one have the right to move? Everyone assumes they cant make noise because theyre listening to Vivaldi. But originally, this music was written to make people dance, to get them to laugh and enjoy. Today, most art is too serious, I think.