Pierre Chareau made a lasting name for himself in the annals of architectural history with one seminal work, the Maison de Verre in Paris, completed in 1932. He did, of course, do other things. With the opening last month of Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design at the Jewish Museum in New York, we get a comprehensive look at his work for the first time in the U.S. But the exhibition does more than that. Its designers, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), have taken on the challenge of how to display architecture in a groundbreaking way.
Organized by guest curator Esther da Costa Meyer, professor of the history of modern architecture at Princeton, the exhibition includes four distinct sections. The first is dedicated to Chareau’s furniture designs—a peculiar mix of a decorative and machinelike aesthetic—including a coatrack, makeup table, daybed, side tables, armchairs, and lighting, displayed in several vignettes. In front of those arrangements are scrims of PVC-coated polyester weave that roll down from the ceiling. Scenes of shadowy silhouettes of people using the furnishings are projected onto those screens. It is surprising and playful, but also gives the viewer a feel for the Parisian interwar era in which the eclectic objects were created. “Part of our brief was to situate Chareau in the sociopolitical context,” explains DS+R founding principal Liz Diller, who counts the architect—often pushed to the margins of the discipline —among her heroes from when she was a student of architecture at Cooper Union.