Museum Must-See

First U.S. exhibition devoted to Pierre Chareau opens at NYC Jewish Museum

Architecture Art Design East
Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet, Maison de Verre, 1928-1932 (Courtesy Jewish Museum)
Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet, Maison de Verre, 1928-1932 (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design at the Jewish Museum is the first-ever U.S. show on the French designer and architect and the first show on Chareau globally in 20 years. It highlights the architect’s rare remaining furnishings, lighting fixtures, interiors, and pieces from his art collection.

The exhibition was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and Liz Diller was present for the show opening. “Chareau was always a hero of mine in school, but I couldn’t quite figure him out,” she said. “Decorative, functional, rubber, metal, glass, mahogany, Marxism, hinges, things that swing, clinical, gynecological, lush, and idiosyncratic most of all. This opportunity really gave me a second chance to learn about this figure.” Chareau, who left Paris in 1940 after Germany occupied the city during WWII, lived in New York for ten years and attempted to rebuild his career in the U.S., expanding his work into metal and glass and landing commissions such as Robert Motherwell’s house in East Hampton, Long Island. During this time his extensive art collection was sold, including pieces by Picasso and Mondrian, and his designs were similarly scattered. The show attempts to reconcile these losses by piecing them together in cohesive ensembles.

The second-floor balcony of the house that Pierre Chareau designed for Robert Motherwell in East Hampton, New York, 1947. (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

The second-floor balcony of the house that Pierre Chareau designed for Robert Motherwell in East Hampton, New York, 1947. (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

DS+R faced several challenges when designing the exhibition. “How can one architect display another architect’s work without their voice getting in the way?” Diller said. “We knew we had to find some kind of neutral voice that was in the background, but also present.”


La Petite Religieuse table lamp, c. 1924, designed by Pierre Chareau. (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

La Petite Religieuse table lamp, c. 1924, designed by Pierre Chareau. (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

Another one of the challenges for the exhibition, Diller said, was to resituate Chareau’s rare works without resorting to full period rooms that—for spatial and aesthetic reasons—weren’t ideal. Instead, the firm used archival photographs and pochoir prints to recreate four interiors designed by Chareau in virtual reality for visitors to experience: the salon and garden of his seminal Maison de Verre, a living room he designed, and Chareau’s own home office. “Very little of Chareau’s interior production survives—a private residence an ocean away and an array of singular furnishings that are in museums and private collections dispersed to all corners of the world. These solo pieces are meaningful in their native settings, but removed they lose their relationship to space, to architecture, to time, to function; they are truly orphaned. Virtual reality provided the perfect opportunity to re-spatialize these artifacts, these pieces of furniture,” Diller said.

Corbeille sofa, 1923, designed by Pierre Chareau, with upholstery by Jean Lurçat, velours and tapestry. (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

Corbeille sofa, 1923, designed by Pierre Chareau, with upholstery by Jean Lurçat, velours and tapestry. (Courtesy Jewish Museum)

For the Maison de Verre, DS+R wanted to convey the spatial transparency and the open, industrial aspects of the building. Taking a clinical, analytical perspective, DS+R created a large-scale digital reconstruction that meticulously documents the house as short films art-directed by Diller demonstrate the house in action.

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design will be on view at the Jewish Museum November 4 through March 26.

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