The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.
Thursday - Tuesday through March 26, $7.50 - $15 (free admission Saturday 11:00 am - 5:45 pm, pay-what-you-wish Thursday 5:00 - 8:00)
You might not know who Pierre Chareau is, but you’re not likely to forget him after experiencing the Jewish Museum’s exhilarating exhibition about his life and career. “Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design” shines a light on his fascinating work as a furniture designer, architect, and, with his wife, Dollie, art collector and salon host. Born in France in 1883, Chareau had Jewish roots but was raised Catholic; he married Jewish London native Dollie Dyte and counted many Jews among his clients. A success in Paris, where he owned his own design store, in 1940 he fled after the Nazi occupation and two years later was joined by his wife in New York City but was never able to reach the heights he had achieved in Paris. This revelatory show spotlights his unique designs, which prove absolutely exquisite, a blend of modern, traditional, and functional, displayed in dazzling ways by innovative studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Six furniture groupings are enhanced by screens with shadow projections of figures using the beautifully crafted and unusual tables, chairs, desks, couches, beds, and lamps. One room holds artworks (by Mondrian, Modigliani, Lipchitz, Ernst, and others) the Chareaus owned and incorporated into their home and shop, la Boutique Pierre Chareau. Photographs depict the extraordinary house and open-plan studio Chareau designed for Robert Motherwell in East Hampton; Chareau later became the architectural editor for the journal possibilities, working with art editor Motherwell, music and dance editor John Cage, and literature editor Harold Rosenberg. (Sadly, the house was torn down in 1985.)
Visitors put on virtual reality headsets to immerse themselves in four of Chareau’s most splendid environments: his home study in Paris, the Farhi Apartment, and the Grand Salon and garden of his most famous commission, the Maison de Verre, also known as the Glass House, which he built in Paris with Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet and ironsmith Louis Dalbet for Annie and Jean Dalsace. In the final room of the exhibit, Diller Scofidio + Renfro have outdone themselves with a multimedia tour of the Maison de Verre; a central two-sided video screen slides above an architectural rendering of the house, showing cross-sections of the interior and exterior and stopping as it reaches a specific room; then, on one of the walls, a video shows that space in use by a man and a woman, their interactions marked by sly Gallic wit. Built between 1928 and 1932, the Maison de Verre itself was clearly ahead of its time, and today it remains as forward-looking as ever by virtue of the mesmerizing manner in which it is displayed. In the 1950s, Chareau sought to have a show at MoMA but was turned down by Philip Johnson; thus, it’s about time he had a major show in his adopted hometown, and what a show it is.