(It is summer and the hot sun has driven me crazy. Actually, I was dubious about this work until I actually viewed exampes of it. It is great design and fun. The pieces were produced in small batches. Each piece, I have been told, is signed using an ink imprint with a three digit serial number. A card with the edition number was also included. They are not currently in production. There were many variations to each piece. I have seen pieces in the $200 to $700 price range. We thank John Geresi for the idea and pursuing it so diligently and well. H.J.L.)

I was bewildered at first by the fanatical reaction to Gaetano Pesce's work. The excitement of his proponents was clear, but what of the objects? Ugly, misshapen, transmorphing things, I thought. But I digress by discussing my initial reactions rather than my main point.

The thing to understand is: Pesce's work in resin is an extension of the 20th century's greatest Italian glass artists and is as continuous with that tradition as can be believed. (For the purposes of this essay, I will focus on the work done under the Fish Design imprimatur). To see the work through this lens will allow you to see it anew, as I first did in the summer of 1998. And if you really see what Pesce is accomplishing, you may decide that the true heir to the great Italian glassmaking tradition working in resin not glass.

Pesce's decision to work in resin is the choice that any real contemporary artist makes when presented with a new and/or better means to achieve the same tasks/goals. By permitting varying amounts of light to penetrate (or not), resin plays much the same transformative role to a ray of light that glass does. The physical process of making these resinous objects is also analogous to glasswork, where the fluid product can be pushed and pulled at one's command for only a very brief time. And the resin objects do have one advantage over our beloved vetri: they do not break when dropped. In fact, when handled many shimmy and shake seductively, adding to their interest and their beauty.

Historical Context

In my opinion the most important, and often overlooked fact in Pesce's vitae are his working episodes at Moretti, Vistosi, and Venini. While in architecture school, Pesce worked at these three Murano glass factories. It is in my opinion that these experiences helped form his unique aesthetic, and the basis for what he was to eventually produce in many different media.

During a visit we had in the summer of 1998 Pesce spoke of his youthful ability to blow glass, and wondered aloud whether that talent might not still be intact. (I have no doubt the effort would produce something never before seen, and perhaps something slightly obscene). To look at the glass work he produced at C.I.R.V.A. circa 1991-2 is to understand how a single working episode can show greater brilliance in a medium than the lifelong output of most pretenders. And while it would not be unproductive to assess the C.I.R.V.A. work in relation to many of the same italian glass designers, that analysis must wait for another time.

A Historical Analogue

In the exhibition catalog CARLO SCARPA ARCHITECT, George Ranelli makes an important observation about the strength of Scarpa's working methods. Scarpa always worked closely with project craftsmen, and came to know their craft methods intimately. Scarpa's years with Venini and MVM Cappelin taught him the importance of the partnership between design and craft. Pesce also works in that manner, and I see it as no coincidence that the very traditional Scarpa and Pesce share this orientation: Pesce was at one time taught by Scarpa.

The master glassblower-designer relationship that Scarpa employed is subverted in the Pesce's Fish Design series in that the object maker is not a master of the craft, but a more humble workman. (Or is that just an outsider's impression)? And what of the pieces Piesce admits to dashing off himself? Could a really sophisticated eye identify those by some inexplicable incremental beauty.

I also see the influence of Fulvio Bianconi in Pesce's Fish Design work. An unusual level of comfort with both the figurative and the abstract in the work of both Bianconi and Pesce is evident. Similarly, a lack of exactitude in the crafting of the objects does not suggest an indifference toward craft on either man's part, but rather a subsuming of craft to the inspired moment and its result.

The Physical Evidence

A comparison of a small group of Fish Design objects with earlier works of Italian glass is in order. The comparisons I will ask you to consider are not intended to suggest literal "quotations" by Pesce to the earlier works, but are instead intended to suggest many of the same artisitc goals being realized in a new way.

Perhaps the most recognized of all his Fish Design works, Pesce's Amazonia series of vases [p6 and 7 on the CD] finds a precedent in a wonderful vase by Hans Stoltenberg-Lerche for Toso in 1911, [p16 on the CD]. Presented at the Venice Biennali in 1912, the three legged vase is incredibly organic, sensuous and strangely human. Seeing a monochromatic Amazonia vase most clearly confirms its precedent, though Pesce is very unlikely to have seen such work.

(That a Piato Con Pesce plate by Stoltenberg-Lerche follows in the above mentioned catalog is perhaps just a coincidence. And the photo of the 1911 vase is preceded on page 109 in the book by a Stoltenberg-Lerche vessel which is echoed in a large resin piece in the Ruth L. Shuman interior that Pesce designed).

The connection of the recent resin work to Italian glass craftsmanship was further driven home when I went to pick out an amber monochrome Amazonia vase for a friend. I had purchased a similar model a year earlier, taking the one on display and having it shipped directly to a recently-married couple as a wedding gift. But in the interim I learned the importance of really looking at the individual piece, and made a point to study the six or so examples that were on display and in the back of the store. Much as a great glass design can be executed by a great or by a mediocre glassblower with different results, so too these designs. There were important differences in all size vases, and though I may be wrong to raise the importance of these differences given the concept of how these pieces are produced, I thought the differences significant aesthetically. As in the world of Italian glass, where design and execution meet, they can be joined well or badly.

Other Comparisons

To my eye, the multi-color Amazonias [page 8 on the CD] and Venini's Pezzatos are clear cousins. While the techniques of production in this instance are necessarily different, the effect is much the same. Pesce's Rock vases achieve much the same textural effect as Scarpa's granulare series [p14 on the CD].

Another similarity that cannot be ignored is the "sketching" of Bianconi in glass and the "sketching" of Pesce in resin. The very free hand exhibited by both men is striking.

Pesce echoes both Chiesa and Bianconi fazzolettos more explicitly in the hanging and table lamps done for Fish Design. By using gravity as the unvarying formative agent, he makes the connection to these classic pieces clear. But in the examples shown on the CD, he actually turns the piece a full 180 degrees to subvert the force. In this next example, a more direct and consistent comparison to the fazzolettos can be seen in the Rag lamp series [p11 on the CD].

The Pompitu [p10 on the CD] and St. Ivo [p11 on the CD] series vases, with their bubbled imperfections, remind me of Scarpa's a bollicine and other thick-walled glass work, with windings that are even more eccentric than those seen on some of Scarpa's Corroso work [p15 on the CD]. I also see a descendant of the A Fili a Fasce vases in Pesce's Spaghetti vases [p9 on the CD].

I also suggest you compare Bianconi's Fasce Verticale and A Spicchi series vessels with Pesce's Twins [p12 on the CD] series vases. Here again you have the same idea, executed in two brilliant (but very different) ways.

I guess I see connections to Italian glass in most of the Fish Design objects, and those of you who know Italian glass better than I may see even more.

A Sense of History

Pesce stands in line with other great Italian architects/designer/artists, not outside it as does the brilliant but singular Carlo Mollino. His arc is quite clear, and his conservatism is lost on most people. (A "radical traditionalist" as it were). And by taking that traditional in a direction that many glass specialists have yet to understand, his place in the pantheon of master designers will slowly become clear.

To summarize, I believe that this most apprently radical of all Italian architect / designers has such a strong grounding in Italian glass history, that seeing his Fish Design work as outside of that history is wrongheaded. I have lived with these serially produced objects, and can say they have become irreplaceable to me. And with two young boys and their friends around the house, I do not have to hide them in closets and take them out only for special occasions.

If you are a collector of Italian glass, I suggest you ignore the vast majority of new work being produced in this medium (excepting perhaps the case of Ohira) and really look at the work I've tried to describe. I am pointing at the future (and past) of Italian glass design, and do so with a full and enormous respect for past Italian accomplishments in glass. Integrate a Fish Design vase into your precious vetric collection, and I assure you the pieces will find themselves in a sympathetic dialogue, and in familial company.

John R. Geresi

Originally appeared in:
Vetri: Italian Glass News, 2001.

© John Geresi