Charlotte Perriand: Celebrating A Modernist’s Legacy

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The huge photograph of architect-designer Charlotte Perriand draped over the iconic Lc4 tubular and steel chaise lounge she designed in 1928 with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret and a wooden table that stands in front of it, crafted in the mid-century style that shaped her later career, provide a fitting introduction to the stunning exhibition Charlotte Perriand, on view at the Venus Over Manhattan gallery on Madison Avenue until January 12. Arguably one of the most important designers of the twentieth century, Perriand is receiving her due in this, the largest show of her work ever to be staged in New York, produced in partnership with Laffanour/Galerie Downtown in Paris.

It includes more than fifty pieces spanning eight decades and highlights the strong Japanese influence on Perriand’s interiors and furnishings. Among the chairs, stools, Nuage cabinets, cupboards, armoires, and benches on view are several pieces from the Maison Borot, the rundown residence in Montmartre that, over a fifteen-year period, Perriand renovated into a model of modernity for industrialist Jean Borot.

Installation view of Charlotte Perriand at Venus Over Manhattan, New York.

Perriand joined the Atelier Le Corbusier-Pierre Jeanneret at age twenty-four in 1927, after Corbusier had initially turned her away, famously saying, “We don’t embroider cushions here.” But after visiting her presentation at the Salon d’Automne that year, featuring her Bar Sous Le Toit (bar under the attic) with its glass and aluminum surfaces, Corbusier immediately hired her to lead his design studio.

At the Atelier, Perriand used newly available materials such as tubular steel to usher in the modernist aesthetic. One masterful product from the period on display is the Fauteuil chrome tubulaire, Édition Thonet (1928). In 1937, after ten years at the studio, Perriand left to become an independent designer, stepping out from behind both Corbusier’s long shadow and machine age technology.

MODERN had a chance to speak about this landmark show with co-curator Françoise Laffanour at the New York City opening.

Tamara Moscowitz/MODERN Magazine: When did Perriand begin to explore natural materials?

Françoise Laffanour: In the 1930s she began to explore the potential of wood, a far less expensive material than metal. She especially liked pine, oak, mahogany, and bamboo. Familiar with the tradition of woodworkers, she adopted what she saw as their synthesis of simplicity and refinement.

Between 1940 and 1946 Perriand lived in Japan and Vietnam, which played a critical role in the evolution of her design philosophy. She immersed herself in these Asian cultures and absorbed the essence of their designs, integrating them into projects: sliding cabinet doors, stair storage, and the asymmetrical Nuage (cloud) shelves, which she thought added rhythm to a space.

Installation view of Charlotte Perriand at Venus Over Manhattan, New York.

TM/MM: What were the influences behind the unconventional biomorphic-shaped tables?

FL: Perriand was also interested in the way nature is capable of producing perfect forms that are not necessarily symmetrical or geometrical. She studied stones polished by the sea and pieces of driftwood found on the beach, seeking to discover the mystery of their perfection and trying to achieve something as close as possible to the balance and simplicity in her own designs. An example is the Table à six pans (1949), notable for its organic shape with six sides and three legs.

TM/MM: Perriand had a saying, “The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living.” Do you think The Cuisine-Bar Marseille (1952) exemplifies this point of view?

FL: The Cuisine is a symbol of a way of living that Perriand wanted to promote. The style and design reflect a desire to integrate the kitchen into the center of the home, introducing an openness that allowed those in the kitchen to participate in family activities. This interior design concept is a common practice today.

C.haise Ombre designed by Charlotte Perriand, 1954, produced 1975.

TM/MM: There is a model room on view from the Maison du Brésil at Cité Universitaire (1959). Did she follow the same design principles for all her academic residences?

FL: She did not use the same material, but made the same kind of spare interior architecture. At the Citè Universitaire in Paris for the residence Maison du Mexique and the Maison de la Tunisia, both completed in 1953, she used more metal than wood and Formica.

Charlotte Perriand on view through January 12, 2019 at Venus Over Manhattan.