Gaetano Pesce inspires a new generation of artists at the Aspen Art Museum

Stella Bottai: Do you remember how we first met?

Eliza Ryan: Yes, I wrote to you at the beginning of the pandemic; I was in rural Connecticut. When everything stopped, I started taking long walks, collecting flowers and branches and tidying up. I could focus on it for hours. I asked a friend who owns a bookstore in Chinatown called Aeon if he would send me a specific book: by Bruno Munari A flower with love.

One thing I took away was that anyone could make arrangements from any kind of material. I found that incredibly encouraging. I started sending people pictures of my arrangements and then I thought, in this day and age when so many people are separated from loved ones and can’t connect in person, I can send messages from one person to another via email. I started a Virtual Munari A flower with love and friends were asking me to send a message to another friend.

SB: I’m recalling that there is something in the book about how the arrangements you see in it should not be copied.

IS: Yes. Munari concludes with: “There are many examples in the book, but not to copy them, it is more important to invent them yourself, seeing it as you know now, ciao ciao.”

SB: I have been thinking about this idea of ​​avoiding repetition, because for Gaetano Pesce, the idea of ​​uniqueness and individuality within repeating forms is important. We decided to present a series of works that would span around 50 years and show different sides of his practice. Gaetano is interested in this idea of ​​design and architecture being portraits of a community.

IS: What’s interesting about the vases is that although many of the shapes are the same, the actual colors and physics of the resin make each one a unique object. Similar to how I think about deals. There are some repeating shapes or styles that work well together, but it’s also a response to the vessel or object.

SB: Flowers are interesting in relation to Gaetano’s work because they imply a sense of permanence. For this exhibition we had to create floral sculptures in response to the vases that will last throughout the show – from May to October – which led us to think first about dried flowers and then about fake flowers. What’s interesting is that they don’t look fake and allow for possibilities that natural flowers don’t have.

Installation view of Gaetano Pesce’s My Beloved Mountains at the Aspen Art Museum.

IS: Of course. This was my first time working with fake silk and plastic flowers, and it was really fun to go to the Flower District in New York.

SB: Gaetano is interested in natural forms, not as a celebration of nature as such, but rather in the possibilities of unique forms that appear even within repeating patterns. For example, his Organic Building in Osaka, Japan is one of the earliest to include living plants within it. The conversation between his work and flowers, plants and living forms started a long time ago. In our show you answered vases more in terms of a universal form.

IS: Yes. For me, the process starts with the selection of stems and flowers/buds or leaf shapes – color is very important, both bright and bold/dark tones. I look for the shape of the branch and the way the buds, flowers and leaves are arranged. I don’t necessarily think how they will go together, that happens later with each specific ship and setting. In Gaetano’s case, the room felt alive with his strength, his genius, his humor, both in his past and new work. You (Stella) included many archival works, all of which greatly influenced my designs. There was almost a domestic scene that was set up with the chairs and tables, frames and shelves. This was also incredibly inspiring.

SB: Did you find that the vase being a figurative image affected the way you were thinking about it?

IS: It offered an opportunity to be playful with the design. Some of the vases looked to me like ocean waves with a crest on top with the white and blue juxtaposed. Some were volcanic in appearance and some mimicked mountains. His use of color was incredibly inspiring. Things come together intuitively. You’re not sure which way it’s going, but you know when you hit it.

SB: Well, in a way, it’s almost as if Gaetano was there in person, even if he wasn’t, because his objects and design have such a strong voice. That’s why I see this as a collaboration even though it was done in stages.

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