The master of radical Italian design is reinvented through the lens of contemporary artists in the Museum’s “Out in the World with Gaetano Pesce”
At 81, iconoclastic Italian designer and architect Gaetano Pesce is still pushing the boundaries of art, design and industry from his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio. A new 116-page book, In the world with Gaetano Pesce, presents previously unseen works by the artist last year, a series of kitten portraits by legendary photographer Duane Michals (who photographed everyone, from Andy Warhol to Marcel Duchamp), an incisive interview with New York Times critic Sophie Haigney, and numerous photo collections commissioned from contemporary photographers who explore Pesce’s constantly revisited work through new lenses.
The textured green cover of the book features an inflated 3D image plate, the first of its kind for publisher Literal Matter. The images capture Pesce’s work outside the gallery and into the world: Charlie Engman’s mother crawls under a large prototype of felt and epoxy resin from the Cultivated chair, Steve Harries captures Fish Design vases with in-camera manipulations, and Leonardo Scotti photographs people sitting on Nobody is perfect chairs in the streets of Milan.
In the world marks the start of a new chapter for the former contemporary art and fashion magazine Museum hardcover editions that will challenge the form of traditional art books. On the occasion of the book’s release, Laura Bannister, half of the of the museum The New York-based, Australia-born brother-sister duo sat down with Document to discuss the transition from magazines to books, the new avant-garde in art documentation and, of course, Gaetano Pesce.
Megan Hullander: How did you Museum To start?
Laura Ramp: We’ve been publishing an art and fashion magazine twice a year for about half a decade. Each issue had a conceptual theme – an entire issue could be dedicated to the nose, for example. We organized launch events that took the issue to new heights: for the Noses edition, it was an evocative and sensory party in a bakery with bakers churning fresh bread. For our âSouvenirâ show night, we created a one-night-only souvenir shop inside a gallery, with a personalized motto.
Megan: And what triggered the switch from magazines to books?
Laura: After five years of doing magazines, Matthew and I started talking about the next phase of Museum. We’ve always seen it as an ongoing printing project, one that could change shape and evolve. We were interested in the idea that a book could function as a kind of exhibition, a format that could both reflect and adapt to its subject. Each Museum book will be themed about a different artist, group or movement. The shape will change each time – it’s completely shaped around the person the book is focused on. There is something really liberating for us about not being attached to a uniform shape, composition and size.
Megan: How did Pesce’s work translate into the form for In the world?
Laura: Pesce’s work is so tactile; it was important for us that the book was also tactile. There is an inflated picture plate on the cover with a portrait of Duane Michals de Pesce, taken in his studio last year. It’s like the puffy photo stickers you used when you were a kid, really playful and three-dimensional. This was the first time our printers in Italy worked with puffy stickers, so it took a bit of experimentation.
Megan: Even with this transition, Museum is very print oriented. What do you think is the role of print today? Because it’s so different from what it was before this kind of digital boom.
Laura: Matthew and I have always been interested in print, not so much digital. What’s exciting about print is its physicality: an object forces people to navigate around it. They take it with them, feel it in their space. It’s a different kind of connection. I don’t think print replaces digital, but for us, it’s always more interesting to get involved.
Megan: How did this book come about? Why did you choose Pesce to launch this project with?
Laura: Actually, we’ve been chatting with Pesce’s studio since 2019. They’ve been very gracious and generous, giving us incredible access. My brother and I have always loved his job. Probably the first thing I saw in the flesh – aside from its vases – was one of its huge, sculptural footrests. The foot was really something else, all black, cut from a body, as huge as a sofa, demanding your attention.
Pesce is now 80 years old; he had a long and fruitful practice. And that means there are other (excellent) books out there about his work – so it was important for us to treat the documentation of his pieces in a different way. The books that do exist take a more traditional approach to imagery, documenting the chairs as one would with artwork in a gallery, or using archival images that already exist.
Megan: What makes this book different from those that came before it?
Laura: With the exception of some archival footage that appears in the essay and interview, all of the photographs in the book were recently commissioned. We shot throughout 2020 and a bit in 2021, loaning collectors, museums and other design institutions, shops and Pesce himself. Some of these images take his pieces to a whole new place – they are as much about the object as the photographer. For example, Steve Harries photographed still lifes of various Fish Design vases. They are hand-cast resin and appear strong, but are extremely flexible and malleable. Steve’s photographs ignore the materiality of their surfaces, manipulating their forms behind closed doors. These vases have been captured in the same way on several occasions. Steve brings something new, which changes the way we interact with the material and the surface.
Megan: And why do you think his work is still relevant today?
Laura: Several works from the book were produced in 2020. Pesce still works every day, in his studio in Brooklyn Navy Yard, or from his home. He doesn’t really refer to other creators, but he does often refer and fold in on himself. Sometimes a song will rhyme with another from previous decades. He is exceptionally curious and works with a lot of young people. And he pushes himself to innovate with new materials or find new ways to manipulate the plastics he has been experimenting with for decades.
Megan: Do you think there is a particularly New York quality in this book?
Laura: actually, I’m not sure it’s a new York book, although Pesce lives and works here, and many of the photographers we’ve worked with live in New York. We have also photographed his pieces in many other cities: Milan, London, Sydney, Tokyo. That’s not to say that Pesce’s practice isn’t inspired by this city – for example, in his Brooklyn studio right now, there’s a giant new sculptural piece that opens outward via a remote control. It reveals an instant desktop setup: a desk and a bookshelf. He loved the idea that you can get whatever you want when you want it in New York City, so he created an office on demand. But overall I would say her practice, whether architectural or interior, connects with people beyond any location. Even if it’s about connecting in the simplest way, through the soft materiality of plastic, a lasting religious symbology or anthropomorphic elements, like a chair staring at you.