Voyage UCCA Lab

Gaetano Pesce: Nobody’s Perfect

2022.8.11 - 2022.10.16

Location:  Voyage UCCA Lab

SHANGHAI, China — From August 11 to October 16, 2022, Voyage UCCA Lab is proud to present “Gaetano Pesce: Nobody’s Perfect” in collaboration with Design Society under China Merchants Cultural Industry (CMCI) and Gaetano Pesce Studio. Following successful installments in Shenzhen and Beijing, this solo exhibition by the renowned Italian architect, artist, and designer Gaetano Pesce (b. 1939, La Spezia) has been specially reformulated for the space of Voyage UCCA Lab in Shanghai, a collaboration between Voyage Group and UCCA Lab. The exhibition presents roughly 50 3-dimensional works and 30 drawings, touching upon the fields of product design, installation art, and architectural design to draw viewers into Pesce’s whimsical world while showcasing his anthropomorphic approach towards design and ingenious use of vibrant colors and innovative materials. The exhibition is co-presented by Voyage UCCA Lab, Design Society under CMCI, and Gaetano Pesce Studio, with special support from the Italian Cultural Institute in Shanghai. Voyage Group provides support as a strategic partner. The exhibition is curated by You Yang, Lizzy Li, and Zhao Rong, and organized by the UCCA Lab project team.

Gaetano Pesce was born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939. He combines the identities of architect, artist, and designer, and has held exhibitions at leading art institutions around the world. Pesce’s practice is not limited to the functionality and practicality of design products, but rather, expands its focus to issues such as material conceptualism, modern urban development, the relationship between nature and humanity, and more, endowing his creations with an enduring vitality and deeply felt humanism. Pesce refuses blind copying in his work, and does not limit himself to just one category of materials or craftsmanship. Since the 1960s, he has explored how modern industrial materials may be shaped and altered, integrating the shrinkable and elastic qualities of materials into conceptual designs and their practical applications. The use of polyurethane foam in the “Up” series provides a key early example of this approach, which is also observable in his resin furniture. The artist often uses tools intended for the mass reproduction of forms to create his works, yet in addition to establishing the functionality of his pieces, he also transforms each of them into a vibrant artwork by altering variables such as the ratio between different materials, and the rate and angle of liquid pouring for materials such as resin. 

The exhibition’s Chinese title, “点石成金” (dianshi chengjin), which translates to “touch a stone and turn it into gold,” originates from Daoist texts on immortality, and also echoes the legend of Hermes creating gold using the philosopher’s stone. This reflects Pesce’s multi-faceted creative exploration of commonplace materials like resin and foam, which he transforms, via “imperfections,” into unique, resplendent artworks. Through his use of anthropomorphic forms, quirky exaggerations, intense colors, and other artistic techniques, Pesce brings the alchemical myth of a “golden touch” into real life.

“Gaetano Pesce: Nobody’s Perfect” features works created in a cycle reaching from the 1960s into the present. These intertextually-related works in a variety of mediums, including chairs, desks, lamps, and architectural sketches, unfold in a non-linear manner across the exhibition space. The plasticity of the materials, the naturalistic use of color, and the presentation of human-like forms provide the viewer with multiple layers from which to engage with and interpret the artworks. The exhibition not only includes pieces like UP5_6 Armchair (1969) and Curdi (2019), two important works in the artist’s oeuvre which advocate for the rights of women and minority groups by speaking out against discrimination based on gender and ethnicity, but also other classic pieces which highlight his concerns about the environment, our relationship with nature, and other real world issues. These include Lagoon Table (2012), which channels the power of water into furniture design, and Albero (2021), which uses papier-mâché mixed with resin to simulate the textures of a tree and figuratively pay tribute to nature. The exhibition also brings together materials related to Pesce’s innovative architectural practice, presenting his cutting-edge, exploratory thinking in architectural design. These works draw the viewer into dialogue about the potential for symbiosis between architecture, nature, and humanity. For example, Pesce’s Organic Building (1989-1993), built in Osaka, Japan, is the world’s first vertical garden. 132 native plants and tree species grow all over the structure, mitigating the effects of the surrounding urban heat island. Other experiments such as the Bahia House (1999) and Church of Solitude (1974-1977) similarly attempt to integrate local environmental and cultural contexts into architectural forms.

One of the creative hallmarks of Pesce’s practice is the anthropomorphization of non-human forms. Many of the three-dimensional works in this exhibition take on a human appearance, giving them an emotional resonance beyond their functionality as furniture or other items. The 4.5-meter-tall Portaritratti Chair (2021) features 20 human faces, speaking to Pesce’s desire for true globalization—in which people from all over world might sit together and communicate. The “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Crosby” chair series are also typical examples of the artist’s anthropomorphic approach, each inspired by different human figures. Though each series follows a standard form, the process of being made by hand adds randomness and creativity to the appearance of individual works, adhering to the artist’s concept of “diversity and non-repetition” in design, and expressing his vigilance against standardized industrial production and paradigms of control. Simultaneously, the “flaws” in these works reiterate the idea that “Nobody’s Perfect.”

The artist himself has been specially invited to design the exhibition layout. The concept for the structure of the exhibition was sparked by the presence of a number of columns in the gallery: four walls delineating four different sections are extended off of each column. The audience may choose their own path through the space as a whole, granting them the right to determine the exhibition’s narrative. Elements of rippling water on the walls reflect the design of the touring exhibition’s previous stops in Shenzhen and Beijing and create a sense of continuity. Moreover, the water pattern reflects the special relationship between Shanghai’s urban culture and its waterways, as well as the city’s network-like flows of creativity. 

“Gaetano Pesce: Nobody’s Perfect” crafts a vivid, tangible viewing experience to draw visitors into the world of the artist. The exhibition not only dives into the heart of Pesce’s creative philosophy, but also challenges audiences’ preconceived notions of design and art. Through a wide range of artworks, “Nobody’s Perfect” underscores the artist’s concern for humanity and his explorations of diversity and its value. Through the transformation of everyday materials and “imperfections” into new possibilities for art and design, he brings the Chinese expression “touch a stone and turn it into gold” to life. On the occasion of the exhibition’s tour through China, Pesce has commented, “The grand Chinese culture has opened the door to my work. I, therefore, am honored to be able to exhibit my ideas on the future of architecture and the design of objects in a museum which surely will be able to raise the debate to advance and promote activity in these two important sectors of contemporary culture.”


Public Programs

During the exhibition period, UCCA Lab will present the “Organic Path” series of material-based workshops and other activities. This series takes its inspiration from legendary Italian designer Gaetano Pesce’s multi-disciplinary fusion of design, architecture, and the unconventional use of materials. During these exciting regularly scheduled events, participants will have the chance to learn about the aesthetics of strong and vivid colors, how to analyze internal emotions through practical creative expression, and how to present objects with an anthropomorphic appearance. We hope to provide participants with unique sensory experiences, in which the connections between art, design, and life become readily apparent. For up-to-date information, please consult the relevant official event announcements. Detailed information is also available on the official UCCA WeChat account and the UCCA Lab WeChat mini program, as well as on other social media platforms.

Works in the exhibition

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Paravento Cassina

219 × 200 × 46 cm

UP5_6 Armchair

Wood, metal
101 × 110 × 134 cm;
57 cm diameter ball

Portaritratti Chair

Polyurethane foam, acrylic paint
348 × 225.5 × 477 cm

Pratt Chair (Artist’s Copy)

94 × 48 × 50 cm

Nobody’s Perfect Chair

94 × 48 × 43 cm

Self Portrait of Its Author Shelf

179 × 75 × 245 cm

Camicia Pulcinella Lamp

Cloth, resin
135 × 90 × 255 cm


Iron, wood, papier-mâché, resin
320 × 145 × 45 cm

Albero Vase

Resin, papier-mâché
60 × 56 × 56 cm

Lake Table

Polyurethane foam, resin, PVC
79 × 320 × 109 cm

Rubber House (Model)

Resin, rubber, wood
110 × 120 × 150 cm

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Installation Views

Installation Views

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About the Artist

Born in La Spezia in 1939, Gaetano Pesce studied architecture at Venice University. As a young man, he wrote a manifesto defending the right to incoherence in art, the need for change, for freedom, and to not to repeat oneself. In a career as an architect, artist, and designer spanning fifty years, Pesce has been guided by a constant drive towards innovation and experimentation, and created public and private projects in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia, in fields including architecture, urban planning, interior design, and industrial and exhibition design. Herbert Muschamp, the authoritative architecture critic, has presented Pesce’s multidisciplinary work as “the architectural equivalent of a brainstorm,” and it is displayed in the permanent collections of the most important museums in the world, including MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the Montreal Museum of Art, and various other museums in Japan, Portugal, and Finland.


About Gaetano Pesce Studio

Gaetano Pesce Studio was founded by artist Gaetano Pesce in New York in the 1990s and has been operating independently for nearly thirty years. In addition to assisting the artist in the production of his works, the studio is responsible for the planning, operation and promotion of the artist's affairs. Since its inception, the studio has been involved in the curating of dozens of exhibitions. The studio now has contacts in New York, Los Angeles, Milan and Shanghai.


About Voyage UCCA Lab

UCCA Lab has partnered with outdoor communication and media application specialist Voyage Group to jointly open a new art space—Voyage UCCA Lab. Teams from UCCA Lab and Voyage Group work together in the day-to-day operation of the space. Voyage UCCA Lab is situated on the first floor of the Golden Eagle International Shopping Center on West Nanjing Road at the very heart of Shanghai. As a continuation of UCCA Lab’s ongoing explorations into new ways of collaborating to present art, the new space shares UCCA’s more than a decade’s worth of resources in art and experience in museum operation. Supported by UCCA Lab’s host of real-world success stories in a variety of collaborations, Voyage UCCA Lab focuses on the cutting edge of new media art from around the world. Each year, the UCCA Lab team will mount two unique, bespoke exhibitions at the space, presenting premium art events in a highly interactive venue specially tailored for the art and culture of our time. The venue is also strongly rooted in the local community in its mission to help promote public art in Shanghai. With a slate of public programs including workshops, Voyage UCCA Lab serves as a new venue for art that sparks imaginations and inspires reflection in the general public, as well as a space for community, connecting people and art.


About Voyage Group

Voyage Group was established in 2009, and has steadily grown over the past thirteen years. As one of China’s leading advertising and marketing corporations, Voyage Group owns and operates a wealth of outdoor media resources in key, heavily trafficked locations, and possesses a mature, effective agency procurement model with excellent capabilities in creativity, production, technology development and application, digital marketing, big data usage, and consulting. In 2021, Voyage Group completed the new strategic distribution of its self-operated media platforms, iteratively upgrading its business through initiatives such as the construction of outdoor “naked-eye 3D” screens at landmark sites around China, the opening of Voyage UCCA Lab, and more. As an outdoor communications and media application expert, Voyage Group is committed to working with brands to explore new ways of marketing, thus creating even greater media value.


About China Merchants Cultural Industry and Design Society

Founded in October of 1984, China Merchants Cultural Industry (referred to as CMCI), a subsidiary under the listed China Merchants Shekou, focuses on cultural industry investment and operation. Committed to become a leading incubator for cultural content innovation integrating cultural resources in CMSK, CMCI specializes in cultural content development and venue operation, building up four major product lines including Design Society, Performing Arts Connection, EDU Society, and Sports Society. CMCI positions itself as a comprehensive service provider engaging in cultural complex operation, exhibition and performing arts IP development and operation, sports arena and event operation, international education and public learning, media digital operation, and other innovative business development in cultural industry.

Design Society is an innovative cultural institution founded by China Merchants Shekou (CMSK), with London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) as its founding partner. Committed to launching diverse cultural activities, it provides extraordinary cultural experiences to the public. As a creative platform, Design Society has established extensive and deep cooperation with partners in different fields, including colleges, museums, foundations, businesses, and governmental and educational organizations. Guided by the advice of industry experts as well as feedback from members and the public, Design Society has developed programs closely bound to society and industry. Such creative practices ensure the sustainability of Design Society in a long run. Design Society has independently planned a variety of exhibitions such as “Craft: The Reset,” “Y-COMIC-X,” “Values Of Design: China in the Making,” and “Fashioned from Nature” as well as digital arts exhibition “Minding The Digital.” In addition, it has established a special education platform “Design Society Education” to advocate the concept of “design with society” and the spirit of “hands-on experience, critical making, cross-connection.”