“Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design,” a new exhibition mounted at the Jewish Museum in New York, examines the legacy of the avant-garde French architect and designer Pierre Chareau (1883–1950). The exhibition is on view now through March 26, 2017. Chareau is perhaps best known for his seminal work the Maison de Verre—an iconic Paris landmark designed in collaboration with Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet in 1932. Delivering the first U.S. retrospective devoted solely to Chareau, the exhibition was designed by New York–based Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), exploiting various forms of technology—including virtual reality, video projections, and digital installations—to render an atmospheric context for its comprehensive narrative.
“Design exhibitions are central to the Jewish Museum’s program,” said Claudia Gould, Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director. “This exhibition brings together the work of two great innovators: Pierre Chareau and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. By collaborating with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose ability to integrate technology with art and design is unparalleled, the Jewish Museum is creating an especially rich and dynamic experience for our visitors.”
The exhibition is organized by guest curator Esther da Costa Meyer, a professor of modern architectural history at Princeton University. “Pierre Chareau” is partitioned into four sections with each parcel showcasing a distinct facet of the designer’s broad scope of work, including his streamlined furniture and lighting fixtures, his interior design and architecture, as well as his designs for film, and examples of the artworks he collected.
Instead of yielding to the restrictions of full period rooms, DS+R resituates these rare works for visitors by using archival photographs and prints to recreate four interiors designed by Chareau in virtual reality. These select interiors include the salon and garden of the Maison de Verre, an interior living room, and Chareau’s own home office.
“’Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design’ is an opportunity to return to a significant figure in every architect’s education, but one primarily known through only one masterwork, the Maison de Verre, said DS+R’s founding partner, Elizabeth Diller. “This exhibition is a rare opportunity to see so much of Chareau’s creative output brought together in one place. The challenge in undertaking its design was to provide a multi-faceted and imaginative backdrop that would highlight, but not compete with, his exceptional mastery of detailing and assemblage. By engaging with Chareau’s furniture, interiors, and collected ephemera, we are able to absorb and represent his idiosyncratic voice, which has had relatively little exposure in the U.S.” Arranged in vignettes throughout the exhibition, Chareau’s furnishings, such as a daybed, side tables, chairs, lighting, and his 1930 walnut table and bookcase are on display. Combining decorative details with a machinelike aesthetic, the furnishings are veiled by scrims of PVC-coated polyester weave, which serve as screens for playfully projected silhouettes of people using the furnishings.
For the exhibition’s finale, DS+R conveys the voyeuristic transparency of Chareau’s benchmark Maison de Verre through a clinical lens by crafting a large-scale digital reconstruction that methodically documents the house as short films to demonstrate the house in action. The innovative installation allows visitors to experience the Glass House as if they are moving through it themselves, offering a working encounter with the architecture and revealing the story of the ways in which the house accommodates its inhabitants.