L’Abbraccio by Gaetano Pesce

Disegno Daily New York

Gaetano Pesce’s retrospective in New York draws out the conceptual rather than functional qualities of Pesce’s work.

The exhibition, entitled L’Abbraccio, which translates as “Embrace” or “Hug”, has been conceived along thematic lines. In this sense, it tells us something different from his other recent exhibitions. His Six Tables on Water at David Gill Galleries in London least year and a jewellery exhibition at Galerie Basia Embiricos in Paris, which finished in February, were conceived according to functional types of object rather than their visceral qualities.

Yet a conceptual approach is appropriate when curating designed objects loaded with connotations such as Pesce’s. An array of furniture is displayed in the form of miniature models or sketches, encouraging us to view them as articles of display rather than ascribing them with a function.

A model of a cabinet in the form of two lovers in each others’ arms sits comfortably on a pedestal like a sculpture. There is also series of flamboyant vases that seem to be more conceptually provocative than practical. Pesce’s work has often negotiated the boundary between art and design, but the choice of objects in this exhibition consciously teases it out.

This is the first ever major exhibition of the Italian design icon’s work in his hometown of 32 years, New York. The last significant exhibition of his work here was in MoMA’s landmark 1972 show The New Domestic Landscape curated by Emilio Ambaz. The earliest works in this retrospective, Subterranean Rooms and their twelve accompanying drawings, Habitat for Two and Commune for Twelve, featured in the MoMA show and are the most well-known. As a result, they set the tone for the rest of the retrospective. In these works, completed in 1971, Pesce portrays a dystopian future in which a failed society has retreated underground and is re-discovered in the year 2000.

Gaetano’s recent works are more obviously linked to the theme of “L’Abbraccio”. Among them is an oil panting of a lamp fashioned from cupid’s arrow, with two bulging, illuminated hearts pierced by it and lodged at its centre. Another is a translucent fibre and rubber model, conspicuously phallic in shape and fitted with a dark cap. The piece is entitled Lamp with Blue on Top.

Such works verge on kitsch in their overt references to hearts, lovers and sex and their exuberant juxtaposing colours, but Pesce’s recent work does still retain a connection to the anxiousness inherent in his earlier dystopian imaginings of the future.

On the far wall of the final room stands a model of two towers moulded from green and brown resin joined by a large, red heart. Resin, one of Pesce’s favourite materials, creates a less manufactured finish than plastic, bringing out the vulnerability of the buildings bound by the heart. This work has a double life as a functional object and a vessel for meaning. It is both a model for a cabinet and Pesce’s powerful proposal for the new World Trade Centre.

The exhibition hints that the notion of “L’Abbraccio” is less innocuous than it seems. In Pesce’s earlier works, the potential of the future is tainted with dystopia; in more recent ones, the comfort of kitsch is appropriated an ironic marker of fragility. A conceptual approach does do justice to Pesce’s works, although that does not necessarily mean that this needed to be an exhibition dominated by models and sketches portrayed as artworks. In fact, what Pesce’s work tells us is that design can move us, too.



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