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October 21st, 2005
Gaetano Pesce's Design is Subject of 'Pushing the Limits' at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Internationally acclaimed for his innovative designs incorporating non-standard production processes and the latest materials developed through new technology, Gaetano Pesce (b. 1939) will collaborate with the Philadelphia Museum of Art this fall in creating his first museum exhibition in the United States in nearly a decade. Gaetano Pesce: Pushing the Limits will be on view in the Museum’s Contemporary Design Galley (170) from November 18 through April 9, 2006, and will feature some 20 examples of the designer’s work with furniture and interior design over the past five decades. At the 6:00 p.m. opening on November 18, sponsored by Collab: The Group for Modern and Contemporary Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pesce will be honored with Collab’s Design Excellence Award.

Pesce's multidisciplinary work in design, visual art, architecture, and planning can be unpredictable—like his resin furniture "customized" in form and color according to the choices of the artist and the chance flow of pigmented materials within the molds. Italian writer Gillo Dorfles has said that Pesce has "made the world a less conformist place" with his objects that pit the conflicting values and means of handicraft against those of industry.

"No designer has pushed material and technological experimentation further than Gaetano Pesce," says Kathryn Hiesinger, Curator of Decorative Arts after 1700 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "From his famous UP series of polyurethane foam chairs in the late 1960s to his experiments with resin from the 1980s to the present, he has constantly explored the relationships between material and form in a unique and authentic body of work."

In the Museum's exhibition, the artist's work will be displayed on a series of shelves. Each shelf is unique in size, mounted on exposed copper pipe, allowing light to move freely through the objects and emphasizing the dramatic quality of the work. In addition to examples from his UP series, highlights of the exhibition will include the unique Self Portrait with Chairs, in which the contours of Pesce’s facial profile are lined with many small resin chairs, as well as two chairs and a table from his recent Nobody’s Perfect series—a line of furniture which celebrates the individual as part of the design process and reflects Pesce’s belief that it is impossible to attain a truly perfect design.

Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce studied at the University of Venice Faculty of Architecture and the Institute of Industrial Design, also in Venice. He has worked in numerous countries, including Italy, Germany, Belgium, Japan, and the United States. In 1959, he was one of the founders in Padua of Group N, an association of artists and designers concerned with programmed, or "Op," art. Pesce received his first important critical notice at the international furniture exhibition in Milan in 1969 when he introduced the UP series, although his work had been earlier included in shows in Finland and Italy. While Pesce has been particularly active as a furniture and interior designer, he has also found time for film making, lecturing worldwide, and teaching, most notably since 1975 at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies in Strasbourg, France, at the Domus Academy in Milan, and at the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York. A resident of New York since 1980, he founded Fish Design in Manhattan in the mid-1990s and opened offices in Milan in 2004. Pesce has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1996 and the Milan Triennale and the Vitra Museum in 2004–2005 (the Vitra Museum exhibition catalogue, Il Rumore del Tempo, itself a work of art, will be on view).

The exhibition is supported by Collab. This non-profit organization founded in 1970 raises funds for the Philadelphia Museum of Art's modern and contemporary design collection, which now includes over 1000 works. The collection ranges from appliances and furniture to ceramics, glass, and lighting. Collab presents its prestigious annual Design Excellence Award to a design professional who has made a significant contribution to the field. Past honorees include Florence Knoll Bassett, Milton Glaser, Michael Graves, Jonathan Ive, Maya Lin, Ingo Maurer, Richard Meier, George Nakashima, Karim Rashid, Philippe Starck with Ian Schrager, and Robert Venturi. Collab also promotes public understanding and appreciation of contemporary design through its educational initiatives, including sponsorship of symposia, lectures, tours, and a citywide, college-level student design competition.

Collab will hold its 13th Annual Student Design Competition at the Museum on Monday, November 14 at 3:00 p.m., with a discussion session and reception following the announcement of the winning entries. This year’s theme is variance, inspired by Gaetano Pesce’s contributions to design through his unique approach. Students will develop a full-scale functional prototype of a flower vase supported by a presentation board that demonstrates the use of variance in the manufacturing process. The top five entries will receive monetary awards and be recognized during the Gaetano Pesce: Pushing the Limits opening on November 18. Winning projects will be on public display at Daffy’s, 1700 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, for several weeks following the competition.

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