Gaetano Pesce has always straddled the realms of design, art and architecture, and nowhere is this more evident than in a major exhibition at the Maxxi Museum in Rome, which traces his oeuvre over the past 50 years.
Industrial production has been a means of reaching a wider audience for the designer and artist. Through his use of resin, PVC packaging and organic shapes, Pesce has created over the years - with manufacturers such as Cassina, B&B Italia and Zerodisegno - some of the most meaningful pieces of Italian design.
'My work is based on supporting diversity and differences,' explains Pesce referring to the exhibition’s title, Il tempo della diversità (the time of diversity). 'Equality brings boredom and lack of colour in life. I work to promote the diversity of places, cultures, languages and identity.'
For many, Pesce is the maverick designer-architect that turned chairs into colourful, cartoonish characters. From the playful 'Greene Street Chair' produced by Vitra in 1984 - with a distinguishible face in the backrest holes and eight spidery legs - to the curvaceous 'UP' chair, his designs are both a joyous, non-conventional take on seating and, more subversively, a political stance.
The anthropomorphic 'UP 5&6' chair and ottoman, depicting a female body chained to a ball, was created in the 1969 to denounce sexism. Also known as 'Donna' and 'Mamma' (woman and mother), it incorporates many of the themes in Pesce’s production, where the female body is a main concern and inspiration.
'Pesce has always been a pioneer,' says the show's co-curator Domitilla Dardi. 'Not only did he bring art and craftsmanship into industrial production, he also permeated all his work with a strong message of reflection. His objects aren’t merely functional, they provoke thinking, ideas, doubts and sometimes even uncertainties.'
Outside in the piazza of the museum, looms a gargantuan seven metre-high site-specific installation of the 'UP 5&6' chair and ottoman, which includes a hologram of Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai speaking at the UN on one side, and a series of small screens on the other, broadcasting such politically charged messages as: 'Do you know in which country women cannot drive?' As Pesce himself states, 'The oversize installation is intentional so that viewers are inevitably faced with the message about the lack of freedom that women have in many parts of the world.'
It’s a far cry from a sterile design installation, and in pure Pesce tradition, one that begs the viewer to think and ponder beyond aesthetics.