In the Mix
One of a Kind
With his new Bottega Veneta collaboration about to launch at Design Miami/, legendary designer Gaetano Pesce sits down to talk dream projects and the power of experimentation
“This space is a tribute to diversity. It is about the human being; we are all different. People who say we are all the same—f**k them!” – Gaetano Pesce
For over 50 years, architect-designer Gaetano Pesce has been nothing short of a force in the creative world. Responsible for evocative, iconic works spanning the fields of architecture, interior design, urban planning, industrial design and beyond, Pesce is forever driven by experimentation, his work marked by a passion for material innovation, fearless colorways, and a celebration of individuality.
The Italian-born, Brooklyn-based legend turns 83 this month and continues to produce exceptional work at a rigorous rate. Just this fall, Pesce was commissioned by Bottega Veneta creative director Matthieu Blazy to design the scenography for the fashion house’s Summer ’23 show in Milan. In response, Pesce created a boldly chromatic, resin-covered floor and 400 unique cotton and resin chairs, some featuring hand drawings, titled Come Stai?, collectively conceived as “a tribute to diversity.” (The chairs will be presented as a site-specific installation for this year’s Design Miami/, and sold in person and online.*)
Diversity, Pesce will tell you, is an ongoing theme in his work; though it feels especially potent at this moment the world. His latest project is at once playful and purposeful, demonstrating the clarity of vision and iconoclast spirit for which he is so beloved.
In the leadup to Design Miami/ 2022, editor-in-chief Anna Carnick spoke with the inimitable powerhouse about his Bottega Veneta collaboration, shifting values, and what gives him hope.
First off: Let’s talk about your Bottega Veneta commission. What was it like to collaborate with Matthieu Blazy? What did you most enjoy, and what surprised you most about working together?
What I enjoyed the most with Matthieu was the fact that he was interested in innovation, and when he visited my workshop in Brooklyn I noticed from his eyes that his mind was very inspired by certain things we showed him. It means to me that he is a curious person; curious about new things, about the future and what it can give to us.
In reality, with the kind of freedom that Matthieu gave to me, we realized something that was really innovative in a way, a tribute to diversity, which is a recurring theme in my works. For instance in 1972 I began talking about diversity related to industrial production. Traditionally an object was supposed to be produced in identical copies, but, since the technology finally allowed us to, I suggested making objects one similar to another, not identical, introducing variation into industrial production.
In my mind, objects are made for people, and people are similar but never the same. I believe this is why we had this success, because people are ready to understand these kinds of values.
How does this latest tribute to diversity relate, in your mind, to the current global rise in xenophobia, nativism, and reactionary extremism?
I suggest a new value to embrace, like diversity, because I am opposed to political and social systems like the authoritarian regimes that exist across the globe, or the old Nazism or Communism, etc. where they tried or they are still trying to convince people we are all the same, and in certain cases, they even try to convince people to dress the same way.
It was and is absurd to suggest to a society such things, and since the beginning I was always fighting this ideology with my work.
Further, in the past, values changed very slowly. They generally lasted at least a century; therefore artists and creators would utilize their linguistic discoveries throughout their life and they became recognizable in their style. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the pace at which people’s values change has accelerated, and this dynamism of values forces us to use different languages according to shifts in the values of our time. So if today we fight to reaffirm certain aspects of reality, tomorrow we pursue others, and our work results and we become intent, diversified, and even unrecognizable by our style.
Art and design have long served as mirrors to society. Do you believe that art and design can make positive change in the world?
Art and design can make positive changes, when they are not decorative, when they carry values that are not just of aesthetics. If art and design push new values that make the future become present, then in that case objects and art are vehicles for ideas that are used for the society and they become very useful.
It’s remarkable to see a fashion house commissioning a collection of unique design objects such as this—as opposed to, say, a gallery or museum. What does this say about the moment in which we’re living and where we’re headed?
This question is interesting because what fashion companies can afford in terms of budget is more than what a museum or a gallery may have available. For this reason they can commission artists or creative people to create really innovative projects.
What we have done with Bottega Veneta was innovative because design entered in the space of another form of art—fashion—bringing also values and meanings besides the traditional function and form.
I believe this is the right path to follow for fashion companies that are open to receive new ideas for the future.
Are there any dream projects or goals you’re pursuing at the moment?
The project that I have been pursuing since a long time is in fact a tower that celebrates diversity. It is called the Pluralistic Tower, in other words a “democratic” tower. I can explain it very briefly: Usually in each floor of a tower there are different families, different origins, different races, etc., but the floors themselves are all the same. I believe it would be fantastic today not to create a tower where each floor is the same like a repressive society, with no difference, where everybody needs to be the same. This Pluralist Tower, with each floor different from another, can be a symbol of freedom, and it can be done by different architects, becoming a statement of architecture and a monument celebrating diversity.
Today the architecture that we see around the world is born out of the International style, initiated by the architects of the modern movement of the last century. It is strange; this art movement had the same hope as the political ideologies of that time—to homogenize the habitants, and homogenize its countries. In reality, the epigones of what we see in the buildings of the different countries all look alike, but they have few architectural characteristics.
So they are examples of building, or constructions or products that we need but we cannot define them as “Architecture” precisely because architecture also expresses philosophical, existential, religious or political content or the spirit of the place.
I venture to say that the architecture of the future is no longer derived from abstract geometric shapes, not anymore a product of cosmetic and empty formal values, mute in their expressions, but from figuration and to communicate the meaning of their being to the observer. Not only that, but I would like to add that the architects of the past expressed only one language; today, in order to intervene in different places, they must have several languages capable of representing the values of the place where they intervene.
What gives you hope these days?
Sincerely speaking, my hope is this: If I look at men politicians of different governments and countries in the world, I see a disaster. They look for personal power and not for the wellbeing of their country. So my hope is that in the future more women will take positions in public roles, such as in the political field, because I believe they have a fantastic energy, better for serving a country compared to men.
I believe that women have in their nature this kind of possibility, to make the world better.
Are there any big lessons you’ve learned over the years that you wish you’d learned sooner?
Look, I learned a lot, in general because I was experimenting a lot. When you start an experiment, you don’t know how and when you will finish with it. So, I would say that what I did was always positive to me, because each experience gave me knowledge.
I don’t regret anything because I was curious about new possibilities, I wanted design expressing new values, architecture expressing values through a figure, and in certain cases even my drawings expressed certain values.
Are there certain artists, designers, architects, or other creatives that you’re especially enjoying or keeping an eye on at the moment?
I am very focused on what I work on, and I have no time to visit galleries or exhibitions. I don’t have time to read magazines—I only read newspapers—so I cannot answer this question well.
I believe in the past. There were major historical characters or figures who told us how it is possible to work with different expressions. The language of the past is different from the one of our time. Today we need to have a language related to this historical moment and if I have to tell you a name of someone who inspired me or I got ideas from is Michelangelo for sure, the curiosity of Leonardo, the representation of light in Caravaggio, the political expression in Goya, and so on. Those are the figures who helped me to understand what I must do today, in my own way but with the same level of commitment.
Thank you, Gaetano!
Thank you very much.◆
*The Come Stai? commission will be presented and made available for in-person purchase by Bottega Veneta as a site-specific installation for this year’s Design Miami/, from November 30 to December 4 at 153 NE 40th Street, Miami, FL 33137, within the Miami Design District. A limited selection of Come Stai? chairs will also be available for purchase online, beginning November 17, at designmiami.com.
Pesce will also be live in conversation during the Design Miami/ fair with curatorial director Maria Cristina Didero; details here.
Come stai?, a new collectible artist's book commissioned by Bottega Veneta with Gaetano Pesce and Matthieu Blazy, will be available in early 2023. Exploring the ideation, approach, and process of the collaboration, the limited-edition book uncovers many connections between Pesce and Blazy’s creative practices and values, and includes contributions from Hans Ulrich Obrist, Blazy, and Didero, as well as vivid photography by Stephen Shore and Sander Muylaert.