Gaetano Pesce: Lastly, the Light

Casting light on lesser-known yet philosophically rich designs by the maestro.
Casting light on lesser-known yet philosophically rich designs by the maestro.
Cover photo: Gaetano Pesce in his New York, studio 2019 – ph. Olga Antipina

April 3, 2024, marks the loss of Gaetano Pesce, an innovator and charismatic force in design and architecture. Born on November 8, 1939, in La Spezia, Pesce was famed for his bold exploration of new materials and aesthetics. A principal figure in Radical Design, he collaborated with top Italian design houses like Artemide, Vitra, Cassina, and B&B Italia.

Pesce also imparted his vision at illustrious institutions such as Domus Academy in Milan and The Cooper Union in New York. He saw design as a creative solution to the demands of the times. This article pays tribute to his unique style and vision, delving into his most iconic works, especially his lamp creations, though a minor part of his production, they showcase his extraordinary and everlasting talent.

Education, influences, and style of Gaetano Pesce

Pesce’s journey began in Venice, where he attended IUAV’s architecture faculty, graduating in 1965. Influenced by notable figures such as Ernesto Nathan Rogers, Carlo Scarpa, and Mario Bellini at the Venice College of Industrial Design, his creative ethos formed. His bonds with Alberto Biasi, Manfredo Massironi, and peers led to his involvement with Group N, a vanguard collective inspired by Bauhaus aesthetics.

Relocating to New York in the ’80s, Pesce’s designs merged artistry and functionality, often conveying strong political and social narratives. He regarded modernism not as a style but as a means to interpret and forecast the present and future while celebrating individuality.

His notable Up series (1969), especially the iconic Up5 chair, inspired by fertility goddesses, became symbols of the women’s liberation movement. Pesce’s work spans the globe, including the Organic Building in Osaka and the Sessantuna tables, marking Italy’s unification.

1. “GAETANA”, Edizione Galleria Luisa Delle Piane, Courtesy of Galleria Luisa Delle Piane, 2023

Gaetano Pesce’s most famous designer lamps

Gaetano Pesce’s lamps are a fascinating facet of his extensive portfolio. They reveal his keen interest in lighting and experimentation with innovative materials and unique forms.

His lamps transcend illumination; they are testaments to his experimental spirit and passion for light. From vases to jewellery, his lamps feature experimental shapes and vibrant colours, often employing polyurethane resin, described by the designer as “extremely advanced yet very simple”.

Osso Lamp (1989)

The Osso Lamp showcases Pesce’s resin work. It boasts an organic, bone-like shape, proving everyday objects can become art. Its surface displays vibrant green to yellow hues and is reminiscent of organic textures, balancing solidity with ephemeral beauty.

2. “OSSO”, Produzione Studio Gaetano Pesce, Courtesy of Galleria Luisa Delle Piane, 2023

Spaghetti Lamp (1990)

The Spaghetti Lamp, a whimsical creation, emulates the haphazard, playful look of spaghetti, blending function and humour. Its core of filament-like elements captures and scatters light in unexpected ways, creating a dynamic interplay of shadows and reflections.

3. “SPAGHETTI LAMP”, Collezione Fish Design NYC, Edizione Limitata, 1990, Courtesy of Galleria Luisa Delle Piane

Ceiling Lamp

The ’90s Ceiling Lamp perfectly encapsulates Pesce’s love for unconventional materials and bold forms. Composed of paper and acrylic resin segments on a star-shaped metal frame, it demonstrates how design can elevate simple materials to functional art.

4. “CEILING LAMP”, Courtesy of Nilufar Gallery, 1990’s

Spaghetti Lamp (2002)

Approximately ten years later, Pesce revisits the concept of “spaghetti.” The lamp’s structure is composed of a multitude of intertwined and curled cords, in a pure white suggesting the use of polyurethane resin. Small colored details, reminiscent of tomato fragments, add an additional touch of color and vibrancy to the whole. The design is suspended from a simple cable, accentuating the contrast between the perceived lightness of the material and its visual mass.

5. “SPAGHETTI LAMP” Courtesy of Nilufar Gallery

Gaetana Lamp (2023)

The Gaetana Lamp, one of Pesce’s recent forays into lighting, features a transparent, flexible resin that diffuses light softly, highlighting the organic shape and dynamic form. The structure flows gracefully from the main body, curving at the sides to serve as a base, embodying the movement found in Pesce’s more traditional works while challenging design conventions with an artistic spirit.

6. “GAETANA”, Edizione Galleria Luisa Delle Piane, Courtesy of Galleria Luisa Delle Piane, 2023

Accolades and Exhibitions

Gaetano Pesce’s work has been showcased in the most prestigious museums around the globe, including the MoMA in New York and the Pompidou in Paris. Throughout his prolific career, he earned accolades, like the Chrysler Award for innovation in design.

Gaetano Pesce remains a bedrock of global design, and his creations will undoubtedly continue to shape and inspire new generations. His ability to fuse art and design into functional and deeply symbolic objects is a touchstone for understanding the potential of contemporary design.

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