Opinion

Gaetano Pesce, Designer Who Broke the Rules, Is Dead at 84

Gaetano Pesce, who for more than 60 years created eccentrically shaped, brightly colored furniture, art objects and, occasionally, buildings, remaining the enfant terrible of the design world even as he became its grand old man, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84.

The death, at a hospital, was caused by a stroke, his daughter Milena Pesce said.

Mr. Pesce, who was born in Italy but spent much of his life in New York City, may be best known for his translucent, brilliantly colored objects, including bowls, vases and trays, which he made by pouring resin into molds, then adding dyes that he chose on the spot. Other pieces, including tables, chairs and lamps, were made of hard plastic, also with vibrant pigments added extemporaneously.

“Gaetano introduced the idea of mass customization,” said Murray Moss, who featured Mr. Pesce’s work at his Manhattan design store in SoHo, Moss, for nearly 20 years.

Of Mr. Pesce’s factory-made pieces, the most celebrated is an armchair shaped like a buxom fertility goddess attached by a wire to a ball-shaped ottoman.

Mr. Pesce explained that, with its suggestion of a ball and chain, what was variously referred to as La Mamma, Big Mama, Donna, and the Up chair portrayed the subjugation of women. It was, he said, “an image of non-freedom.”

Indeed, if his work appeared surreal or whimsical, it was also meant to be political. Unlike other modes of communication, Mr. Pesce said, a chair can bring a political statement right into the home.

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