Pesce’s Up Chair
Gaetano Pesce’s work ranges from architecture, interior design, and urban planning to industrial and furniture design and art. He is known for using unexpected materials and ideas to explore difficult and often controversial contemporary themes. His most famous design is his Up5 chair and accompanying Up6 ottoman, designed in 1969. “I had the sponge in my hand,” Pesce said. “When I pressed the sponge, it shrank, and when I released it, it returned to its original volume.” This concept drove him to attempt to design a pop-up chair made of polyurethane foam (90% of which is air). Pesce had the pieces made in this material and covered in jersey. The Up5 chair could be compressed to one-tenth its volume for flat-box shipping, and then it would permanently pop into shape once opened. The entire process took about an hour.
However, the material innovation is not Up5’s most noteworthy feature—the shape is. Pesce wanted the chair to be shaped like a woman’s womb, similar to the forms of the ancient statues of fertility goddesses. Often the womb is a symbol of comfort, but Pesce mixed this idea with the figurative image of a woman with a ball and chain on her foot. “At that time, I was telling a personal story about how I see the woman: despite herself, the woman has always been her own prisoner. And so I wanted to give this armchair a feminine form with a ball at the foot,” says Pesce. “The issue of male violence toward women had only just started being talked about at the time. Back then, I thought that this serious sign of incivility, which was happening all over the world, would have lessened with time. Unfortunately, however, that was not the case.”
The original Up5 chair was manufactured by C and B Italia (now B and B Italia). It was discontinued in 1973 when freon gas (used to inflate the chair) was discovered to have a negative effect on the ozone layer. In 2000 B and B Italia reissued the Up5 with a new cold-shaped polyurethane construction held up entirely by the density of its foam. It was originally available in striped and plain-colored fabrics, and the second generation introduced eight new covering colors, including silver.
Over 50 years after its creation, Pesce’s seat—and its message about the plight of women—seems even more relevant. According to the New York Times, since the pandemic, women have been hit the hardest with regard to job losses, causing short-term difficulties and long-term repercussions. “Women suffer because of the prejudice of men. The chair was supposed to talk about this problem,” said Pesce.
The chair is often referred to as La Mamma, Big Mama, and Donna. It can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum of Art and Design, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.