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April 5, 2024

Gaetano Pesce, Italian Design Icon, Dies At 84

Visionary Italian designer and Interior Design Hall of Fame inductee Gaetano Pesce recently passed away at the age of 84. With a multidisciplinary career spanning almost six decades in the fields of architecture, urban planning, interior, exhibition and industrial design, Pesce solidified his legacy in more ways than one.

The creative’s award-winning furniture designs often challenged ideas about form—and perception. Take Pesce’s innovative 1962 Up chair series for then C&B (now B&B Italia), which fuses the silhouettes of ancient fertility goddesses (hence the name “La Mamma”) with a prisoner’s ball-and-chain, sparking discussion about sexism and male violence towards women. For the design’s 50th anniversary, B&B Italia launched seven new colorways, commemorating the staying power of the anthropomorphic armchair-ottoman duo.

But how do such innovative ideas come to life? A 2023 exhibition of Pesce’s work at Galerie56 in Manhattan, Gaetano Pesce Unframed, offered some insights. Working with gallery owner and fellow Hall of Famer Lee F. Mindel, the two came up with the exhibition theme on the spot, opting to tape Pesce’s unfinished drawings and designs to the wall and columns, exploring the “unframed” aspect of his work and using the opportunity to showcase his creative genius.

“We had the privilege of exhibiting Gaetano Pesce Unframed at Galerie56. The beautiful thing about that work was he didn’t want to feel enclosed by anything and it was representative in his 45 years of drawings, which have never been seen before,” shares Mindel. “So, they were put up and wrapped in plastic and black tape, which is kind of representative of the informal quality of things celebrating the unfinished, the exuberance, the fun and the joy.”

portrait of Gaetano Pesce
Gaetano Pesce—La Spezia, 8 November 1939—New York, 3 April 2024. Photography by Mark O’Flaherty.

A Look At The Life Of Gaetano Pesce + His Legacy

Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce studied architecture at the University of Venice between and was a participant in Gruppo N, an early collective concerned with programmed art patterned after the Bauhaus. He also taught architecture at a variety of schools around the world, including Institut d’Architecture et d’Etudes Urbaines in Strasbourg, France, and Cooper Union in New York City, where he has made his home since 1980.

Pesce’s curiosity and drive to discover new approaches to his craft propelled his career in its various directions. Known for pushing material boundaries, he often turned to art and design to communicate powerful narratives. His resin work, for instance, includes his brightly colored screen for Cassina in 2012 that pays tribute to the city of New York through an artistic reproduction of its skyline.

Up to his passing, Pesce continued to tap into the human condition with his malleable forms and daring colors. His unique sense of materiality was always complemented by his playful sense of humor and penchant towards the fantastical. As the focus of books like Out In The World With Gaetano Pesce and permanent exhibitions at museums worldwide, this legendary designer’s work will continue to influence generations to come, living on indefinitely. “We will miss him forever,” adds Mindel, a sentiment echoed by many throughout the architecture and design community.

picture of Up chairs by Gaetano Pescepicture of Up chairs by Gaetano Pesce
Navy Blue is one of the new colorways for B&B Italia’s 50th Anniversary edition of Up5_6. Photography courtesy of B&B Italia.
picture of Lee Mindel and Gaetano Pescepicture of Lee Mindel and Gaetano Pesce
Portrait of Gaetano Pesce and Lee F. Mindel in front of the exhibition Gaetano Pesce Unframed.
Gaetano Pesce gallery displayGaetano Pesce gallery display
Gaetano Pesce Unframed exhibition. Photography by Olympia Shannon.

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