Sunday, July 25, 2010

Life in the Fish Bowl, Gaetano Pesce at Moss.

Here is the piece I wrote for the Pesce exhibit in LA.


Life in the Fish Bowl

I started working at the design store moss in New York City in the fall of 1998. Coming from Tennessee, I had a very traditional view of modern design, thinking about it mostly as mid-century design. My knowledge of Gaetano Pesce was also very limited. I only knew of the UP 5 and Up 6 chair, maybe his most famous commercial piece. This all quickly changed though.

Pesce was a big part of moss around then. Pesce was always coming into the store (usually with his then-companion Ruth Shuman), mostly speaking to Murray Moss. Murray was and is a huge fan of Pesce. (The silicone "moss" lamp from 1999 is proof of the closeness of their commercial and personal relationship).

There were lots of Fish Design pieces in the store at the time - moss was by far the biggest retailer of Pesce's work then. Many of the pieces would just magically appear, being brought over by hand from Pesce's nearby 543 Broadway studio, by any number of his employees, in bags, in random-sized boxes, some probably freshly made that morning.

In 1999 the Open Sky exhibit happened at the store. This was when moss was still small, just in the 146 Greene St. space (we used to call it the fish bowl, not because of Pesce, but because we were constantly circling the glass-encircled space). That small store was pure magic (not that larger moss isn't still amazing -- it is! -- but there was something really special about that small store). Maybe it was the timing, the vision that Murray was bringing "design to America" to sum it up quickly. It was also that Murray was able to install these huge, amazing exhibits in such a small space. Open Sky was one of the first of the exhibits that I experienced first-hand.

The Open Sky line was amazing. Every one of us working at moss wanted and or bought something from that show (I had a chair on hold forever, then just let it go, my bad). Each piece was amazing, the interaction of the colors, the shapes, the inventive use of lighting, all were simply breathtaking.

The interesting thing was, being the person on the floor responsible for selling the items and explaining the exhibit, was that many people had no idea who Pesce was. The gut reaction of most people was either that they loved it and knew of him, or had no idea who he was, nor any interest in learning about the work. (Of course, there was the occasional French tourist who knew everything about Pesce and wanted to buy it all. Some I think came over just to buy pieces from the show). This was different than the reaction to most of the other items in the store. With these, people could easily see and appreciate the beauty, and understand the stories that Murray was telling, but with Pesce, it could be a very hard pill for most people to swallow. This made it even more special to all of us when we made a sale to someone.

During this period, before the store opened on Saturday morning, Murray would walk us through the store and explain the new pieces, and offer us stories and the ideas behind each piece, or stories about the designer, or the movement they were a part of - a priceless experience and education.

From time to time, we would have guest speakers come in to address the staff; Pesce never did. However, we did take a field trip to his studio as a group one of those Saturday mornings. I had already become a fan of his by that point, but now I really got it. I understood the magic captured in his process, the meeting of two colors (or more), the unpredictability of resin and his capturing of a moment (like a photograph), but in a 3-D design object. The building process of many of the pieces was similar to painting oddly enough, very low tech, and the studio even felt more like a painting studio than one of furniture and object design. This trip to his studio is one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

During my four year tenure at moss, I got to know Pesce's work very well, from the stuff produced in his own studio, to the commercial products of Zerodesigno, Zani and Zani, and Cassina. I even got to know Pesce the person a bit in 2002, the year the Nobody's Perfect collection was first exhibited. Again there was a clear divide of those who knew and understood, and those who did not. This time, thanks to the years of Murray's pushing, and of each of us explaining and repeatedly telling the stories, the pieces were more widely appreciated, and I think, even those who weren't interested in purchasing them could appreciate the process and design.

I left moss just after the second Nobody's Perfect exhibit. Oddly enough, I went on to work at Kidrobot with plastic being a major component of our designs, and immediately began dealing with manufacturing limitations. I really, truly gained a new sense of appreciation of Pesce then. Not only had he been capturing these little moments of magic in each piece, he had been capturing freedom. Freedom expressed through his ability to do almost anything with resin, something we found was hard to capture in our own toy factory processes in China.