New York

Gaetano Pesce

Max Protetch

Gaetano Pesce’s buildings and objects exude an unashamed sense of artifice and an unchecked air of exuberance. His work is as visceral as it is cerebral. Pesce’s designs question comfortable assumptions about what a bank building or a chair should look like, and offer delightfully twisted alternatives to conventional solutions. At Steelcase Design Partnership, the focus was on chairs, tables, sofas, and fabrics. (All were originally designed for Italian manufacturer Cassina but never distributed actively.) However, one wall of the gallery was devoted to photographs, many showing the production of the I feltri chair, 1987. The chair is constructed of felt pieces injected with a liquid resin. As this material hardens, it is shaped into a variety of configurations. The chairs share the same genotype—all are made of two pieces, one for the back and base, the other for the seat—but as with most offspring, they display modest as well as vivid differences. The photographs show Pesce engaging in the design process: his peculiar, insistent vision appears to be in a constant state of negotiation with the nature of the materials and the rhythms of production.

The furnishings here were displayed on an arrangement of raised platforms, creating a large cylindrical form that stretched nearly 60 feet across the floor. This canelike structure served as an important seam; in plan, it became the slash of a nose, while several other platforms created features of the designer’s face. Much of Pesce’s work is about the experience and memory of the body. The show at the Max Protetch Gallery included drawings and models for buildings and spaces, objects and furnishings, many of which used the body as a point of genesis. In Project for the Center for Children, 1985, an unbuilt project for the Parc de la Villette in Paris, Pesce’s plan diagram creates the figure of a running child. This simple, almost banal pictograph generates a surprisingly variegated space. When seen in sections, the initial literalness yields to an abstract play of open and closed spaces that seem almost unconnected to the figurative contours of the site plan. In another project, Museum for a Young Industrialist, 1986, represented in both models and drawings, Pesce uses a palette of rusted browns and umbers far removed from the colorful pastels of the center for children. The plan for this project shows a slightly grimacing, or least ambivalent, face; there is no sweetness, no optimism, in this anthropomorphic gesture. The face plan offers an acidic critique of self-monumentalization—of the heroic proportions assigned to often unheroic acts.

In the center of the main gallery stood an enormous model of Project for a Bank, 1986–88. The vertical structure of the piece subverts the public image of banking and suggests the institution’s actual labyrinthine organization. An assortment of small vaults cling like polyps to the interior walls of the structure. The only discernible hierarchy is a crisscrossing stairway that creeps up the back of the building. The front of the model is thick, impenetrable, fortified, while the back elevation is like the site of an autopsy; the skin has been removed, bones and cartilage are forced apart to reveal some inner truth or cause of expiration. In general, Pesce takes a chiropractic approach to design. He twists, adjusts, aligns, and pushes, exposing some inner inconsistency of the body. He is responsible for the exposure, but the revelation must come from the viewer. This is not an easy task, for Pesce’s work is tough, witty, and often forbidding. It is like some noncompliant viscous substance that menaces in its warm embrace.

Patricia C. Phillips