Gaetano Pesce: ‘An object should express a political point of view’ 09.04.15

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Subversive design met feminist porn at the opening of the Italian maverick's retrospective at New York's Allouche Gallery

Italian design has a flair for the surreal and the outrageous. Often colourful and provocative, yet ergonomic, design in these Latin hands succumbs to politics, cartoonism, sensuality and sometimes madness. Leading the way is Gaetano Pesce, a god of Italian design since the 1960s when he became the first of his countrymen to make a revolutionary orgy of architecture, feminism, design, philosophy, industrial production and art.

This retrospective of 60 pieces – maquettes, furniture, vases and drawings, many of which are on show for the first time in New York – gives an overview of the mercurial and maverick nature of Pesce. Highlights include the Bastone lamp, the Kid lamp, a crayon and correction fluid drawing of the UP 5&6 chair, and the XXXL Fabric Vase. These come to strange anthropomorphic life in his contemporary materials of choice: foam, resin and urethane. Walking through the crowded gallery feels like a visit to Dante's Underworld, rich with humour, seductiveness and activism made lyrical.

Bastone Lamp

Bastone Lamp, 2014 (based on the original Bastone Lamp created in 1986)

If Pesce's retrospective in Rome at the Maxxi Museum last summer offered political exclamation marks by way of a giant installation of his iconic UP 5&6 lounge chair spliced with a video of Nobel prize-winning Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, the opening in New York turned up the volume. Here, a live performance by feminist porn star Stoya – who waltzed through the crowd in a feathered gown, disrobed like Salome, and took her seat naked in the Pesce masterpiece, the Senza Fine Unica chair – drew hundreds of titillated viewers.

Kid Lamp

Kid Lamp, 2013

"Art and design should be a service to the people," Pesce said. As Stoya's flesh seemed to coalesce with the oversized chair, described by gallery owner Eric Allouche as "crystalline spaghetti noodles from one angle, candy-coloured ground beef from another, a globular monster left to rot, skin ripped off and insides spewing out", it was hard to look away, and impossible to categorise. Blurring all boundaries, Stoya and spaghetti yielded a visual feast of Pesce's specialty: a memorable encounter between human and object.

Fabric Vase

XXXL Fabric Vase, 2005

"An object should express more than beauty – it should be subversive and express a political point of view," Pesce professed as we looked on, wanting to touch the girl and the chair, to feel greater proximity to this poetic gesture – the creation of that rare experience where material things are made sacred, and the spirit of design is felt.

Pesce sharpens design into a powerful social tool, which leaves users stirred and disquieted. After the show, as if he'd been down to meet Dante too, Allouche breathlessly confessed: "It was really magical. Stoya was half angel-half demon and 100% free. On a very aesthetic level, her skin tone and her body language seemed so close to the chair that I thought they would make one."

Gaetano Pesce: One-of-a-Kind Iconic Works, 1967-2015 runs until 25 April 2015 at Allouche Gallery in New York



Caia Hagel


Above: UP 5&6 chair, 1968

quotes story

The Senza Fine Unica chair is crystalline spaghetti noodles from one angle, candy-coloured ground beef from another, a globular monster left to rot, skin ripped off and insides spewing out

Video of the opening at the Allouche Gallery, featuring Stoya on Pesce's Senza Fine Unica chair 

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