French Modernist Designer And Architect Pierre Chareau Celebrated In New York Exhibition

The first U.S. exhibition focused on French designer and architect Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) has opened in New York. Showcasing rare furniture, lighting fixtures, and interiors, as well as designs for the extraordinary Maison de Verre, the glass house completed in Paris in 1932, Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design brings together over 180 rarely-seen works from major public and private collections in Europe and the United States. It also addresses Chareau’s life and works in the New York area, after he left Paris during the German occupation of the city, including the house he designed for Robert Motherwell in 1947 in East Hampton, Long Island. In his day Chareau was celebrated as a designer of exquisite furniture and stylish interiors, which he displayed at the annual salons of decorative art. Both facets of his creative life are part of a single vision explored in the exhibition. 

Pierre Chareau rose from modest beginnings in Bordeaux to become one of the most sought after designers in France. Creating custom furniture and interiors for a distinguished clientele that included leading figures of the French intelligentsia, Chareau balanced the opulence of traditional French decorative arts with interior designs that were elegant, functional, and in sync with the requirements of modern life. His innovative furniture, veneered in rare woods, with occasional touches of exotic materials, had clean profiles and movable parts that appealed to the progressive sensibilities of the haute bourgeoisie.

Architecture, however, was Chareau’s great ambition. Although he produced only a handful of buildings, the Maison de Verre, designed with the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet, is justly acknowledged as one of the most original houses of the 20th century, owing to its daring structural clarity and ingenious technological novelties. It remains a major point of reference for architects today.

Through his highly distinctive artistic language, Chareau established himself at the intersection of tradition and innovation, becoming a major figure in 20th century design. The exhibition places Chareau in the context of the interwar period in Paris, highlighting his circle of influential patrons, engagement with the period’s foremost artists, and designs for the film industry. The architect and his wife’s active patronage of the arts – and reuniting part of their collection of paintings, sculptures, and drawings by significant artists such as Mondrian, Modigliani, Motherwell, Lipchitz, and Orloff – is another important aspect of Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design at the Jewish Museum.

Between the wars, Chareau designed primarily for a cultured urban elite, and many of his patrons were Jewish. With the German occupation of Paris in 1940, his many Jewish clients were forced to depart. Chareau, whose wife Dollie Dyte Chareau was Jewish and whose mother came from a Sephardic family, fled to the United States. The exhibition will also explore the enduring consequences of Chareau’s flight from Nazi persecution, the dispersal of many of the works he designed during and after World War II, and his attempts to rebuild his career while in exile in New York during the 1940s.

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design, featuring furniture, lighting fixtures, tabletop objects, textiles, drawings, pochoir prints, ephemera, archival photography, and works of art from Chareau and his wife’s personal collection, is organized into four main sections. The first section is devoted to Chareau’s furniture designs, showcasing six groupings of furniture created by the artist for a variety of living spaces. The second section looks at Pierre and Dollie Chareau as art collectors featuring works of art once owned by them and sometimes used in the interiors designed by Pierre Chareau. The third section features recreations of four interiors designed by Chareau, and the fourth and last section is devoted to his masterpiece, the Maison de Verre in Paris. Drawings, ephemeral material, and archival photographs provides contextual background to Chareau’s activities in France and the United States.

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design is organised by the Jewish Museum in New York in collaboration with The Centre Pompidou. The exhibition is organised by Guest Curator Esther da Costa Meyer, Professor of the history of modern architecture, Princeton University, assisted by Claudia Nahson, Morris & Eva Feld Curator, The Jewish Museum. Exhibition design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

The Jewish Museum New York Until 26 March 2017


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