Gaetano Pesce Dwells in the Future

Just in time for L.A. Art Week, the Italian visionary rethinks his past—and our future—at The Future Perfect’s new house in the hills.

Gaetano Pesce. Photography by Stephen Shore

Gaetano Pesce’s revelations still illuminate today. As a major force in the Italian Radical Design movement, which saw designers turning from stiff Modernism and towards the loose and peculiar, Pesce has spent half a century making furniture that makes rooms different. His signature resins and other synthetics let the light linger within his creations, which can veer in form towards the childlike, the creepy, the sexy, the strange, recasting the chair as a stage. He embraces the artificiality of Pop but rejects its cynicism, and deploys the theatricality of Memphis without falling for its brainiac peacocking. 

The fact that design shops from Tokyo to Topeka are cluttered with work that seeks to emulate his effortless weirdness shouldn’t dim the joy of seeing the real thing, which makes “Dear Future,” a new survey show at The Future Perfect, a good reason to visit the gallery’s new flagship in the Hollywood Hills. “With the recent opening of the Goldwyn House, and with the gallery celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it felt like something truly grand was in order,” founder David Alhadeff tells Surface. “Pesce laid the foundations for what we now call collectible design. The show presents the expansiveness of his practice, both a depth of thought and a simple desire to bring joy through his objects.”

“Leaf Shelf – Multi” (2022-23). Photography by Elizabeth Carababas/The Future Perfect
“Square Airport Lamp” (1986/1994). Photography by Elizabeth Carababas/The Future Perfect

While the show is no parade of greatest hits, Pesce does rethink a few of his most beloved creations. “The motif of the female form and femininity is celebrated throughout this exhibition,” says gallery director Laura Young. “It’s a theme he has returned to over and over again throughout his career.” And so the baby-as-ball-and-chain meditation on maternity of 1969’s UP5_6 returns now in recycled Italian bottle corks, as if to symbolize a more hopeful life cycle. Nearby, an eight-foot-tall resin tapestry of a kneeling pregnant person, Donna con titolo skin, seems to pray for us all. 

“The reality of Pesce’s work is that it is rooted in particular materials, resin and rubbers,” Young says, “and the way he uses them creates a synchronicity that visually unites them with his past.” And so new takes on those materials offer new visions of the past: for his 2002 series Nobody’s Perfect, Pesce hand-cast opaque resin in molds without uniform dimension, creating ever-changing colorfield furniture whose final form seemed to depend upon how you looked at them. Now, he returns to the project but pulls the curtain back by offering translucent iterations, reveling in the imperfections through highlighting them.

“UP5_6” (1969/2021). Photography by Rich Stapleton/The Future Perfect
“Multicolor Lamp with Rocks (Floor)” (2022). Photography by Elizabeth Carababas/The Future Perfect

As usual, Pesce prefers new work over nostalgia, so he carries on the Leaf Shelves series in pleasurable foliage tones. The natural world appears unnaturally cheery in his Multicolored Lamps with Rocks, for which he hand-cast rocks in resin, and vases that variously resemble aortae, talons, tentacles, and tubby little friends. “Most of the pieces are impossible to replicate one-to-one,” Alhadeff says. “It’s a subtle aspect of his work—or, rather, not one that is spoken about very often—but this gentle subversion of the industrial process really captures the mischievous spark with which Pesce works.”

“Pesce hates to think about the past, so, as a rule, his work remains focused on the future,” Young says. “This presentation is a rare instance of the two converging, offering a glimpse at his past next to his new works, which embody the future of materiality, the future of form, and generally the future—in the temporal sense—as it is defined by Gaetano.” And per the maestro, the future is bright. 

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