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Maison de Verre

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design at the Jewish Museum


A prominent figure in Art Décor Design during the 1920s and 1930s, French architect and designer Pierre Chareau’s furnishings, light fixtures, and customized interiors for an affluent clientele were considered the epitome of elegance and style. His architectural masterpiece, Maison de Verre (the Glass House), the first glass and steel house in Paris was a milestone in early 20th century modern architecture only rivaled by the work of the legendary Le Corbusier. Although routinely studied in academia, Chareau’s many contributions have received little critical examination in wider circles, hopefully until now.

Maison de Verre, 1928-1932

The Jewish Museum in tandem with the interdisciplinary studio of Dill Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), has organized the first ever U.S. exhibition, “Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design,” an exploration of his legacy that should lift the lid of obscurity in recognizing the designer’s many contributions. The show features 180 rarely seen pieces of furnishings and objects on loan from U.S. and European public and private collections and examines the life of Dollie and Pierre Chareau in Paris and New York.

y Diller Scofidio + Renfro.Glass House/Projection of Interiors

A visually arresting virtual-reality installation from DS+R enhances the viewer experience as the interior settings seem to pop out, move, and come alive. There is also significant art from the Chareaus’ private collection from Modrian, Motherwell, and Modigliani, among others, brought to New York in 1940 after fleeing the German occupation in Paris. A certain sadness encroaches to think as émigrés the couple had to sell their beloved art piecemeal to pay living expenses.

telephone-table4Telephone table and Religieuse table lamp

Born of humble origins in Bordeaux, Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) lacked a formal education in architecture and began working as a draftsman at Waring and Gillow Furnishings in Paris. Eventually he went out on his own to become one of the most in-demand designers in France. His unique style linked the strict geometry of Art Deco and the functionalism and clean lines of International Style modernism inventing the technology along the way. Other distinctions include veneered wood and metals, particularly iron, and irregularities of hand-worked, unpolished surfaces. The sculptural designs were mechanized to pivot or expand into fan-shaped configurations. Many of these elements are incorporated to stunning effect for lamps, chairs, daybeds, and desks, several of which are on view.

Table and bookcase

DS+R used a variety of virtual reality technologies: projections onto strategically placed white screens create ghostly illusions showing function and societal context; interior environments are imagined digitally, the visitor’s first impression of the furniture is that it is encased in a black void. Once viewed through the virtual reality headsets (goggles), four environments are revealed: the Chareau residence and the Farhi Apartment both in Paris; the Grand Salon of the Maison de Verre, Paris; and a 360 degree panoramic view of the garden.

3-chairsTelephone fan table and chairs

“Maison de Verre” (1928-1932), is the centerpiece of the exhibition and Chareau’s most famous project, a modern three-story townhouse commissioned by Dr. Jean Dalsace for his family and to house his medical practice. Chareau’s partners were Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet, and Louis Delbet, a metal craftsman and frequent collaborator.

Installation view of the exhibition

Because there is no entire photographic view on record, DS+R dispatched staff to Paris to photograph sections and then produced a large-scale digital installation. Visitors can take a virtual walk-through becoming immersed in different levels, watching as a voyeur, the house in operation. This installation is overlaid with films that show the house as active and inhabited and is an opportunity to see the interplay of mechanical and circulation systems against the backdrop of its dramatic glass block and steel structure.

Robert Motherwell house

Chareau spent ten years in New York working at a much slower place. One substantial commission was the Robert Motherwell house in East Hampton (1947) unfortunately razed years ago. With ephemeral material, archives and photographs, the exhibition offers a full and rich portrait of this artist’s genius.

Presented in collaboration with The Centre Pompidou. Guest Curator Esther da Costa Meyer, Professor, History of Modern Architecture, Princeton University, assisted by Claudia Hanson, Morris and Eva Fled Curator at the Jewish Museum.

“Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design,” through March 26, 2017
The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue

CREDITS (in order):

Opening Photo: Glass House Hallway, Pierre Chareau (French, 1883-195) Bernard Bijvoet (Dutch, 1889-1979), Maison de Verre, 1928-1932.

Glass House/Front, Pierre Chareau (French, 1883-1950) and Bernard Bijvoet (Dutch, 1889-1979), Maison de Verre, 1928-1932.

Glass House/Projection of Interiors, Installation and Projection: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Photo: Will Ragozzino/SocialShutterbug.com.

Telephone table with white lamp on top. Telephone table and Religieuse table lamp, c. 1924, Table: walnut and patinated wrought iron; Lamp: walnut, patinated wrought iron, and alabaster.

Table and bookcase c. 1930, walnut and black patinated wrought iron

Telephone fan table and chairs, Left to right: telephone fan table, c. 1924, wood. Two high-backed chauffeuses (fireside armchairs), c. 1925, wood and velours with tapestry upholstery by Jean Lurçat, reupholstered 1968. Photo: Will Ragozzino/SocialShutterbug.com.

Installation view of the exhibition. Photo: Will Ragozzino/SocialShutterbug.com

Robert Motherwell house. The second-floor balcony for Robert Motherwell’s house in East Hampton, New York, 1947. Photo courtesy of Miguel Saco Furniture and Restoration, Inc., New York