Design world mourns Gaetano Pesce (1939-2024), the ‘most radical of radicals’

We remember Gaetano Pesce, the rule-breaking Italian design visionary, who has died in New York aged 84

Designer Gaetano Pesce and colourful chairs as part of set design
(Image credit: Davey Adésida)

Italian designer Gaetano Pesce has died in New York aged 84. The news was announced by his team and family: ‘It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of visionary creator Gaetano Pesce,’ reads the announcement. 'Over the course of six decades Gaetano revolutionised the worlds of art, design, architecture and the liminal spaces between these categories. His originality and nerve are matched by none.

‘Despite dealing with health-related setbacks, especially in the last year, Gaetano remained positive, playful and ever curious. He is survived by his children, family, and all who adored him. His uniqueness, creativity and special message live on through his art. Ciao Gaetano!'

Large red furniture pieces

Pesce's designs for B&B Italia, including the iconic ‘UP5’ chair, its kids' version, the UPJ and the UP1 pouf

(Image credit: Courtesy B&B Italia)

Pesce was born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, and based his life and studio in New York since the 1980s. The city had often inspired Pesce in his work, becoming a colourful backdrop for his sculptural furniture, from seating to screens, created for Cassina. ‘New York is a place thriving with innovation and colours,’ said Pesce. ‘My screen recalls the shapes of its towers with the tints of their spatial vitality. The result is a positive, innovative, happy object that will bring value to the space where it will be placed.’

A designer as well as an architect and urbanist, Pesce's creative language was multifaceted and visionary. He had created a world that merged materiality with a playful approach to a traditional furniture vernacular. ‘Design is one of the many ways I have to break the rules,' he told Wallpaper* in 2023, on the occasion of his collaboration with Bottega Veneta. 'Another one is architecture, or a drawing, or a resin skin.’

Sketch of Gaetano Pesce Tramonto a New York screen for Cassina

Sketch of Gaetano Pesce’s ‘Tramonto’, a New York screen for Cassina

(Image credit: press)

Among Pesce's most memorable designs was the ‘UP5_6’ chair and ottoman for B&B Italia. Originally launched in 1969 as part of a seven-piece collection of polyurethane foam seats, the chair is an emotional piece of design that combines craftsmanship with social commentary and humour. The sensual shape of the chair suggests a woman’s body, the womb being the seat, while the ottoman symbolises a ball and chain – a design that was intended to communicate Pesce's denouncement of sexism.

Celebrated across the creative industries, he was the subject of a 1996 retrospective at Paris' Centre Pompidou, and his pieces are part of museum collections including at New York's MoMA and Met, and London's V&A. 

Colourful Gaetano Pesce chairs and runway for Bottega Veneta S/S 2023 show

(Image credit: Courtesy of Bottega Veneta)

Despite having been in design for over six decades, his flair for innovation remained unchallenged, as he continued to create new work until the end. Among his most recent projects were a collaboration with Bottega Veneta's Matthieu Blazy on the S/S 2023 show set, and a collaboration with Meritalia, which showcased his upholstered seating created between 2005 and 2012, at Milan's Triennale during Salone del Mobile 2023

In 2024, Pesce was preparing to debut 'Nice To See You – L’uomo stanco', an exhibition at Biblioteca Ambrosiana during Salone del Mobile 2024. The display will include several unreleased works, including new pieces created in the last year, imagined as 'message bearers: objects with a double meaning: the useful one and the one that makes you think'.

Remembering Gaetano Pesce

Meritalia presents "EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT” Works by Gaetano Pesce

In 2023, Meritalia presented ‘Everything is gonna be alright’, works by Gaetano Pesce at Triennale

(Image credit: Courtesy Meritalia)

Alisa Maria Wronski, who worked closely with Pesce as his studio's director of exhibitions and collaborations, remembers: '[his] impact on the creative world is immeasurable. Gaetano wasn’t just a collaborator; he was an inspiration, a mentor, and a dear friend. His absence leaves a void that can never be filled. Gaetano’s joyful spirit, curiosity, boundless imagination, and vibrant personality left an indelible mark on all that knew him and his work. As I reflect on our time together, I am filled with gratitude for the memories we created and the wisdom he imparted.'

Remembers independent curator Maria Cristina Didero: '[Gaetano Pesce's] projects are both surprising and remarkably consistent with his unique creative philosophy: to be different. He was actually different. His foresight was evident in his advocacy for diversity, a concept he began championing as early as in the 1970s. For Pesce, objects were not mere commodities; they were crafted for people, who, though similar, are never identical. His extensive body of work, renowned for its emotive and tactile qualities, bold use of colour, and commitment to innovative materials developed through cutting-edge technologies, has been aptly described as a manifesto of his stormy and charming individuality, which those who knew him could compare to a volcano of ideas. You and your irony will be missed, Gaetano.'

Gaetano Pesce

Gaetano Pesce’s studio in New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard, photographed for Wallpaper* May 2023. The studio is filled with his work, including a prototype for a cabinet designed while teaching at Paris’ Les Ateliers in the late 1980s. Most of his creations are made using resins and polymers 

(Image credit: Davey Adésida)

Adds Charley Vezza, CEO of Meritalia: ‘There's often a lot of discussion about the relationship between art and design, and how these two disciplines intertwine. However, there was someone who grasped this aspect over 50 years ago, effortlessly balancing on that subtle boundary line, and that someone was Gaetano. With him, we undoubtedly lose the most radical of radicals, a man who turned inconsistency into his consistency, a genius who will be remembered not only for his fluid forms but also for his edgy personality that made him truly unique. We will miss him a lot; the world will miss the presence of such a unique person.’ 

'I loved visiting Gaetano in his Brooklyn studio,' Salon 94's  Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn told Wallpaper*. 'A working table was always set with a box of donuts, coffee and lots of small models to play- prototype chairs to sit. He worked everyday- drawing at home- and then directing, pouring and folding at his studio.  His workshop was set up to experiment: to make a chair talk, to fold resin, to make a table stand on toe shoes, to make felt sturdy.  The extremes of hard and soft. In the last weeks, working towards a large museum commission, he was creating a new family (kid, adult and giant size!) of resin and cut felt chairs to express a joyous and diverse community. We were in the midst of choosing synthetic felts, discussing with his team how a more economic material might absorb his resin versus the natural wool. He was excited to try.'

'I last met Gaetano Pesce last December [2023] in Miami, on the occasion of his exhibition during Art Basel,' remembers Salone del Mobile president, Maria Porro. 'As always, he was warm and welcoming, embracing me with affection. I remember that the previous year he visited the Salone Satellite and shared with me the importance of nurturing and supporting the new generations of the design world. He underlined how the Salone Satellite represents the ideal place for this purpose, offering a platform for the exposure and promotion of talent.'


Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.