Archive for February, 2013

Architecture + Design | Eileen Gray: One-off

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Eileen Gray
Centre Pompidou
Paris, France
20th February – 20th May, 2013

Gliding up the escalator at London’s National Portrait Gallery, one looks down on the Digital Space on the mezzanine level, where friendly, comfortable, and exceedingly stylish Bibendum chairs mingle effortlessly, despite their bulk, with the glowing computer screens. Anyone can sit down on one but at a retail price of £2,215/€2,563/$3,380, few could afford to buy one. Aptly named after the Michelin tyre company’s symbol, Eileen Gray’s Bibendum chair was designed principally, as a one-off. The same can be said of her furniture for E1027, the modernist holiday home she built with her lover, Jean Badovici, at Roquebrune Cap Martin in the south of France between 1926 and 1929. Had it not been for English furniture manufacturer, Zeev Aram, who was responsible for reviving her reputation during the 1970s, when she was almost entirely forgotten, Gray’s other classic designs for furniture, rugs and lighting may never have gone into mass-production. E1027, too, which fell into a decrepit state, may also easily have slipped into oblivion.

‘Eileen Gray ranks among the architects and designers who have left a significant mark on the 20th centuty,’ asserts the press release for the eponymously titled, long-overdue, eponymously titled retrospective that opened this week at Paris’s Centre Pompidou. But, although it reflects many of the trends, debates and dilemmas of the early 20th century, her legacy of buildings and furniture is small in comparison to that of her contemporaries, such as Le Corbusier. Indeed, some even lay the blame for this at Le Corbusier’s door. Director Mary McGuckian’s The Price of Desire, in which Winona Ryder take the lead role as Eileen Gray is scheduled to begin shooting this summer at E1027, where painstaking renovations are almost complete. The story is based around the controversial belief that Le Corbusier, (played by Vincent Perez) effectively effaced Gray’s contribution to modern architecture. Badovici had kept E1027 after his and Gray’s split in 1932 and to Gray’s astonishmernt and anger, invited Le Corbusier, by then a regular visitor, to decorate its walls with murals in his characteristic, crude, Picasso-esque style – which he customarily executed while nude. While others have interpreted this as an act of envy and covetousness, Gray called it vandalism. It could also be true that she considered the subject matter as critical of her bisexual lifestyle. Apparently, in 1949, Le Corbusier went on to published photographs of the the murals without accrediting the house – vaguely described as being ‘at Cap Martin’ – to Gray, and not himself, thus providing the tenuous crux of the forthcoming film’s plot. It ignores that fact that, shortly after it’s completion and after spending a few days there, Le Corbusier sent Gray a postcard extolling its ‘rare spirit… so dignified, so charming and full of wit,’ and that in 1936 he invited her to show within his Pavilion des Temps Nouveaux at the Paris Exposition Internationale, where she presented her plans for a holiday centre, after which she appears to have gone into effective retirement.

Gray, born into an arty, Irish, aristocratic family had studied fine art at at the Slade in London. Bored, in 1902, she moved to turn-of-the-century Paris, plunging headlong into the hedonistic lifestyle and sexually-ambiguous milieu. Her apartment, at 21 Rue Bonaparte, was to remain her principal home until her death in 1976. On an extended visit to London, to be with her ill mother, she learned the art of lacquering. perfecting the skill on her return to Paris, where she started to produce high quality lacquered furniture with a craftsman-like finish in the style later to be called Art deco. As her confidence grew, she began to design whole commissioned rooms down to the smallest detail, listing Elsa Schiaparelli among her clients. However, on her return to Paris from England after World War I, during which she had spent time working as a nurse and discovered a social conscience, Gray became dissatisfied with the the type of work she was producing. At this point she met fell in love with Jean Badovici, a Romanian émigré, studying architecture in Paris and involved in the production of several avant-garde magazines. Coming into contact with the highly influential Dutch De Stijl group, whose projects included the design of social housing, she decided to become an architect. Badovici, aware of her wealth, suggested that he should write a brief for a house that she might build for him. She leapt at the idea, and immediately began searching for a suitable site in the south, where they might escape prying eyes. Badovici would provide the necessary technical support, which she, having had no formal training as an architect, lacked.

The Roquebrune Cap Martin villa site, an idyllic setting on the edge of a rocky outcrop, a few miles east of Monaco, may have come as a recommendation via Le Corbusier’s wife, Yvonne, who was Monégasque, so he might already have been familiar with the location, where he was to spend every August for the next 18 years, building his famous and idiosyncratic cabanon close by, as well as a small group of modular holiday homes, the Unités de Camping. Eventually, in 1965, he died there while swimming in the bay below. The powerful Paris-based Fondation Le Corbusier won the argument over whether his murals would be painted over – they will be remain and are being restored.

Despite her claimed social conscience, Gray only ever got around to building her compact but luxury villa E1027, and another larger one for herself, Tempe a Pailla (1934), overlooking Menton. Le Corbusier had been commissioned to build his first recognisably modernist house, The Amédée Ozenfant House and Studio, in Paris, in 1922. His Villa le Lac (1923), at Coreaux, Switzerland, destined to be the home his parents, has a free, adaptable floor plan, sliding, room-length windows looking out over the lake (although not floor-to-ceiling height), a flat roof that could be used as a sitting-out area and a garden terrace – all strikingly similar to E1027. Just before work on E1027 was started, Le Corbusier’s adjoining luxury Villas Jeanneret and La Roche, in Paris, (now housing the Foundation Le Corbusier Museum) were completed, in 1925. He designed many other luxury houses in the late 1920s and early 1930s, notably Villa Savoye (1931). His first apartment block was completed in 1926. In 1929, he built the Cité de Refuge, for the Armée du Salut (The Salvation Army), in Paris. His output continued and was stupendous. Many years later, Le Corbusier’s landmark social housing project the Unité d’Habitation (Housing Unit), in Marseille, France, was completed in 1952.

Gray’s Art deco pieces are remarkable and have a sensitivity and human quality which was totally new to furniture design that she somehow clung on to and carried through to the modernist items she designed for E1027 and Tempe a Pailla. Her E1027 table and Bibendum armchair were inspired by the recent tubular steel experiments of Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus (who had been inspired, himself, by Mart Stam – a prominent socialist), while the Transat chair pays tribute to Gerrit Rietveld but avoids his uninviting rigidity of form.

Original Eileen Gray furniture does not come cheap. In a Christie’s auction in 2009, an art deco Snake armchair from Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s collection fetched £18,930/€21,905,000/$28,238,000. Along with the villa, Badovici had retained the furniture. After his death in 1956, both were apparently well looked after by a the next owner, a Madame Schelbert. Fortunately, when Dr Kägi, who bought the property in 1982 (he was later murdered there by his gardener in 1996) decided to sell off the furniture for €390,000 the Centre Pompidou exercised its right of pre-emption on the sale and bought the most important items, which are on display in the current exhibition. The chairs and other items of furniture at the restored villa are being donated by Zeev Aram. Visitors are unlikely to be allowed to sit on them.

Photographs from top
Panelled screen by Eileen Gray, 1919-1922
Black lacquered wood
Special collection, courtesy Galerie Vallois, Paris
© Photo Vallois-Paris-Arnaud Carpentier

Portrait of Eileen Gray, Paris, 1926, Berenice Abbot
©Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

View of the salon at villa E 1027, built by Eileen Gray
and Jean Badovici between 1926 and 1929
Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky
Estate of Eileen Gray
Photo Alan Irvine

Bibendum armchair by Eileen Gray, circa 1930
Chrome, leather
Private Collection, Mme Tachard
©Photo Christian Baraja, Studio SLB

View of the southern façade of Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici’s
villa E1027, from the sea at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France
Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris
Estate of Eileen Gray/Guy Carrard

View from the lake of Villa le Lac, built by Le Corbusier in
1923 at Corseaux, Switzerland


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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Books | Anya Gallaccio

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Anya Gallaccio
Texts by Norman Bryson, Briony Fer, Lucia Sanromán and Jan
van Adrichem, and an interview with Anya Gallaccio by Clarrie Wallis

Ridinghouse, 2013
Hardback, 266pp

The eponymously titled Anya Gallaccio is a lavish, heavily-illustrated and beautifully-produced, large-format picture book that comprehensively catalogues the first 20 years of the renowned contemporary artist’s work. No easy task due to its core aspects of transformation and change, and site specificity. Karsten Schubert at whose London Gallery, Gallaccio had her first solo exhibition in 1991, and to which she returned in 1994 to paint the interior walls with chocolate, has supplied an affectionate foreword.

Art books aren’t intended to be read from cover to cover in one sitting, but rather dipped in and out of, which in this case is just as well. Anyone reading the first essay first, might well be put off by Professor of Art History at the University of California, San Diego, Norman Bryson’s sentimental, rambling attempt to enlighten the reader about Gallaccio’s chrematis (1994) in which he explains: ‘The (abandoned swimming) pool can be a portal that leads to another world; or another time. It is an eruption into the present of a past long gone, wreckage which, cut adrift from its own time, has somehow washed up on the shores of the present as poverty and abandonment…’ and that ‘…To let the place begin to speak to us, we need a practice of observation of the kind Keats meant by ‘negative capability’… Take my advice and skip forward to the far more pragmatic and illuminating: Dust Bunnies and Coffee Stains: Anya Gallaccio in conversation with Clarrie Wallis, curator of contemporary art at Tate Britain – a far better point of entry, where one gets to know, first hand, what the work is really all about. Afterwards, peruse the other essays at your leisure.

A blurred Gallaccio appears in only a couple of the images in this book, yet from the amethyst-encrusted front cover, through the flowers and vegetable foliage on the end papers, via every corner of all of the 266 inside pages, and out again through the indigo-dyed chappa silk, back endpaper, to the gleaming bronze back cover, one is aware of her omnipresence. It’s clear that this very hands-on of hands-on artists, inhabits every aspect of her work in a similar and very personal manner.


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Sculpture | Alexander Calder: The Swedish Collection

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Sotheby’s
London, UK
Sale: 12th February, 2013
Exhibition: 9th-12th February, 2013

Red Skeleton, 1945
Painted metal and wire standing mobile
Estimate £150,000 – 200,000

Untitled, 1954
Painted metal and wire standing mobile
Estimate £150,000 – 200,000

Red Yellow and White, 1955
Painted metal and wire standing mobile
Estimate £150,000 – 200,000

The Red Base, 1969
Painted metal and wire standing mobile
Estimate £150,000 – 200,000


A large collection of modern and contemporary art assembled by an unnamed Swedish individual that includes works by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Natalia Goncharova and Tom Wesselman will be sold at Sotheby’s over the coming months.

Four delightful Alexander Calder pieces from the Swede’s collection are the opening lots in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, and are amongst a phenomenal list of prized items from a wide variety of other sources, alongside which – as with all items exhibited in the viewing galleries – they can be viewed, free of charge.

Calder (1898 – 1976) was immensely popular in Sweden during the 1960s and 70s, when this collection was being assembled, and interestingly – an indication of the country’s particularly receptive attitude to modernism during the post-war period – the first donation to the Moderna Museet, which opened in Stockholm in 1958, had been a Calder.

These four items, all of them miniatures – the largest 40.3 x 30.5 x 10.5cm/15 7/8 x 12 x 4 1/8 inches – have a red theme, and were produced at intervals between 1945 and 1969. Also in this sale is another and unrelated Alexander Calder piece, produced around 1927, and typical of his earlier work, a wire figure on a wooden base, representing John D Rockerfeller – a clever homage to one of the USA’s most recognisable businessmen, the great philanthropist is gently caricatured in a golfing pose. Following a visit to Mondrian’s studio in 1930, Calder made his first wholly abstract compositions and invented the moving kinetic sculptures, dubbed mobiles by Marcel Duchamp, in 1931. By 1943, following a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Calder had begun seeking a way of creating more complex sculptural forms. Red Skeleton, produced in 1945, and the earliest of the sale items, dates from this period of experimentation and exhibits Calder’s new technique of piercing alternating planes. The use of wire and coloured organic forms in this and the other three works, imbues them with irrepressible energy and demonstrates the sculptor’s vituoso technical prowess. Calder was an artist with an extraordinary zest for life: his bright, joyful colours were an invitation to everyone to enjoy his work as much as he enjoyed making it.

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mouth2mouth | Philip Treacy on Photography

Friday, February 1st, 2013

mouth2mouth | interview
philip treacy | milliner

Over 30 of his hats were worn at HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Probably the world’s best-known hat designer, Philip Treacy began his career in 1990, in London, having been taken under the wing of the late Isabella Blow. Milliner of choice for many top fashion designers, he created hats for Alexander McQueen’s white haute couture collection at Givenchy, for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, as well as for Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karen. In 2000 Treacy was invited to present the first ever Paris couture show dedicated to millinery. Named British Accessory Designer of the Year five times at the British Fashion Awards, he created hats for film – Harry Potter – for Grace Jones, Daphne Guinness, Naomi Campbell, Lady Gaga and Madonna. A new book, Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies, the result of a 20-year collaboration between the milliner and his long-time friend, photographer Kevin Davies, is published in February by Phaidon. Former creative director at Tatler turned photographer, Pedro Silmon asked Treacy about his passion for photography and photographers.

In the introduction to your and photographer Kevin Davies’ book you say that every hat you ever made began, in your mind, as a photograph. Who is the photographer?
Always Irving Penn. He was the quintessential hat photographer.

A hat is an idea. A suggestion. A hat isn’t an inanimate object you put on your head – it’s supposed to do something – you’re drawing with material to create an illusion. I identify with photographers because they’re doing the same thing as I am.

Is there a particular genre of photographer you like best?
Iconic Hollywood. Greta Garbo’s photographer, Clarence Sinclair-Bull, George Hurrell. Those I discovered in the books I saw for the first time when I went to art college in Dublin. The photographers who invented glamour and made people look beautiful: Hoynigen-Huhne, Edward Steichen, Horst, Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean.

Which other photographers’ work do you like?
Helmut Newton. He was very persuasive and impressed me so much with his charm that I felt I couldn’t seriously say no when he asked to photograph me, who hates having his photograph taken – topless!
Bruce Weber is amazing. His black and white is really colour. So many tones… He put my hats on male models. Such a simple idea but it worked and just looked fantastic. Avedon asked me to make a hat specifically for an Egoïste cover he was shooting with Stephanie Seymour as the model. He was like a teenager – full of energy – really excitable.

Photographers are engaging and obsessive and I understand that. I like photographers that have a point of view and who put their stamp on a picture as if they’ve painted it. You can always tell a Sarah Moon, a Deborah Turbeville, a Paolo Roversi – they have a signature look and extraordinary personality. People like Nick Knight continue experimenting but his pictures are always identifiably his. I like David LaChapelle, who’s charming and has amazing vision. Although I haven’t worked with him a lot, I find Steven Meisel’s work exceptional and unusual – unlike anyone else’s.
One of the biggest influences on me and someone who has been a great inspiration, is Jean-Paul Goude. He’s so talented he doesn’t need to be an arse-hole. He’s a intriguing and charismatic. A designer’s dream. He has incredible ideas that are so simple they show he’s a genius.

What about newer photographers?
I think Mert & Marcus are great. They asked me to make a lace mask for them for the 90th Anniversary cover of French Vogue (2010). I’ve also been working with the German photographer, Cathleen Naundorf, who produces massive, very stylised polaroids.

Which photographers you haven’t enjoyed working with, and why?
I don’t think I’ve come across any… Photographers are like a race of people. I like working with them all.

Sometimes my hats are sent out by publicists to be photographed and I hate it when the photographer tries to do something edgy that just doesn’t work. The best photographers just photograph the hats – no tricks.

Do you like to go on shoots?
Shoot culture has become very irritating and makes going to a shoot daunting experience. So many people. And every time an image pops up on the computer screen, everyone has something to say. I remember when it was the photographer’s point of view that was important. That’s why I was such a fan of Irving Penn, who once took a portrait of me for American Vogue in his little glass-roofed Paris studio, where there was no lighting, no assistant, just a simple chair and a small table, his little camera, him and his charm. Fascinating!…

Do you collect photographs?
I have two wonderful Penn prints – one black and white, one colour – and five of Garbo by Clarence Sinclair Bull, plus a few others by Bruce Weber, Arthur Elgort and Ellen von Unwerth.

Do you have a preference for black and white or colour photographs?
I prefer black and white – it’s more dramatic. But it depends… Colour is a different language. Black and white is more romantic… But, I don’t see it in black and white. I love all the colours in it. What I also love are the really dark pictures that people like Clarence Sinclair Bull did in the 1920s and 30s. The pictures were about darkness, not about light – a lot of photography now is too bright.

You mention in the book that there were always photographers around the studio at 69 Elizabeth Street in the 1990s. Who were they?
Isabella (Blow) was always bringing people in: Michael Roberts, Alastair Thain – all absolutely obsessed – it was wonderful, manic!

Do other photographers still come in or does Kevin now have exclusive access?
They do, Yes. Kevin doesn’t have exclusive access but with him it’s not in your face. He’s a one man band. Quiet. Not loud. Easy. Often, I don’t notice he’s around. I didn’t really understand the pictures when he first starting doing them. They seemed to be the opposite of what people would imagine – not really about the hats, more about the environment. Now I have some of them framed and up on the wall.

Which photographers’ work is on your mood board right now?
… Everybody’s! Because I’m developing another book, with Rizzoli, that won’t be out for another couple of years.

Images from top
In the Studio, 10th February, 1999

The Royal Wedding, Battersea Studio, 27th April, 2011

In the Studio, 69, Elizabeth Street, 11th November

Images by Kevin Davies from the book
Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies
Phaidon
www.phaidon.com
192 pages, hardback, £39.95/€49.95, February 2013

All photographs © Philip Treacy

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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